Iomedae is my Strength.
The boxes tumble to the ground as Lath peers over them. Though he manages to catch one, the noise is enough, prompting one of the demon-spawned minotaurs to look our way. Glancng back to his liege for approval, Faxium tells him to ‘check it out’. Accompanied by a half dozen tieflings, the bull-headed beast heads our way.
Damn, a good opportunity wasted.
For a brief moment we confer and decide we will slip into the arms market through a minor entryway. Aldrick checks the door, but it was locked and so takes a moment to utter some infernal blessing, drawing power into himself. Every time he does that I feel his unholy power scratching at my skin. My kinsman Milo rushs back to offer his talents, though the lock seems to confound him as well.
I call the rest to fall back and protect the innocents while we work on the door. Hearing the minotaur approach, I offer my prayers to You, seeking protection against the worst of the blows that are about to fall upon me. My shield is stout, though against the raging horns and slashing axe of a minotaur I know it can not stop all those blows on its own. Lucius and Lath step back toward the others, while Anevia takes up a firing point atop a cart. The Sarkorian Teer does not heed my words, taking a position beside me, though in truth I am honored to have him by my side. That man is a giant, both in size and in heart. He is a pragmatist at times, though I believe that is the grief coming through – he came to Kenabres with several kin, all of whom were in the Great Courtyard when the tragedy befell. Still, I hope I can inspire more such strength from him.
I see the beast closing through a gap, and ready myself. It rounds the corner, and I can smell its Abyssal breath from my position as it utters two harsh words, “Holy Men”. Milo and Lath still battle with the lock, though fruitlessly. The moment is about to pass.
Suddenly two arrows streak down the street from the forge, striking a duo of the tieflings. The odds are getting better, though still in their favor. Cruelly, Faxium calls out, “I guess I have your answer” as he draws his vicious blade across the neck of the knight. A pain strikes my heart, though not as deeply as the heart of the one inside the forge who cried out in response. Damnit all, I must get to him, there are two few good men left in our city, I must save him. Forward then.
For the Light of Iomedae I charge the servant of Baphomet. The might of Radiance glowing as the morning sun, I raise it high whilest I dive and roll to avoid the beast’s mighty swing. Coming up, I plunge You Glory into the beast’s leg and it howls in pain. True to his nature, Teer charges behind me, swinging his mighty hammer into the minotaur’s shoulder.
The tieflings swarm around us like locusts, though as they move it becomes evident they are no mere militia. Offering prayers to the dark lord Daskari, I see unholy energy dance along their bodies and blades. Damn, a host of demagogues and cultists, this just keeps getting better. They swarm around the cart and minotaur, striking at Teer and I with their cruel blades. Their blades inflict little pain, though perhaps that is because all of my strength is driven to raising my shield ab block the giant axe swinging down at my head. Your Strength bolsters my arm and Your Might strengthens my shield – the Abyss-spawn’s axe is no match for Your Glory. Iomedae protect me.
As the other minotaur begins swinging its axe into the forge’s door, Faxium turns to his priestess and utters the words, “deal with this” before disappearing. Damn, he escaped.
Striking back with a swing of Radiance and a punch of my shield, I wound the demon minotaur more, though it only counters with its own dark prayers, and I am troubled as wounds on its body begin to close. More tieflings have surged past us and I can hear Lucius, Lath and the others battling behind me. Damn, this is taking too long, a good man lays dying.
Several tieflings fall, arrows continue to come from some unknown defender within the forge, and we make a leap forward when Radiance delivers the final blow to the minotaur I battle. I turn to run for my fallen brethren when a demonic laughter erupts from the roof of the arms market. Faxium is playing with us. Damn. He vaults off the roof, landing near Lucius who has just dispatched several of the tiefling cultists. His Abyssal skin glistening with a blood-like sheen, he smiles as Lucius, then speaks to him, calling him by name, “Lucius, we thought you were dead. Most excellent. Let me see what you are made of.”
A challenge? He wants to challenge Lucius? How does he know him? This is the second demon to call to Lucius… perhaps this has to do with why he asked me to seek evil corruption upon him? Still, there is something he is holding from us, something we need to know. It almost seems as though Faxium wants to measure himself against Lucius.
I am torn, do I turn on Faxium, now standing amid my allies, or do I rush to the fallen knight and the defense of those within the forge. Besides Faxium, few are left at this side of the battlefield. Best to take the fight to them and save this man at the same time. I charge down the road, shield raised as I duck and weave through the vile cuts of Daskari’s worshippers. I make it to the knight, a good man named Edorres, and through the blessings You have bestowed upon me his eyes burst open and he gasps for air as I am able to heal his wounds. Thank You, Iomedae, for Your blessing upon me.
I hear a battle cry, a challenge, erupt from the battle behind me. Though the voice is Lucius, it is in a strange tongue, yet one that sounds of honey and trumpets in my ears. He calls on Ragathiel, Your battle general, for guidance in the fight with Faxium. Iomedae grant him strength.
Ever a lion in his heart, Teer calls out to “Stormfather” for strength – I believe he said that is one of his tribe’s deities – and charges with the fury of a ranging thunder, crashing into the crowd of tieflings near me and shattering one’s skull with his hammer. The other minotaur’s axe comes around viciously at my head, though again Your blessing deflects its blade away from my shield. Strangely, I see a man climb out of an upper window of the forge. He is armored lightly and a bow rests across his back. He seems drawn to the she-witch, and as he mindlessly walks toward her, he is cut down by swings from the tieflings and the minotaur. Another noble soul twisted by their foul touch.
The witch tries her Abyssal enchantments on me, hoping to bind me in place so her minions can cut me down. Her magic holds no strength over me, bless You Iomedae. I wade into the mass of demons and deliver two mighty blows to her in response. The tieflings strike at Teer, though for each minor wound they cause he takes another of their lives. A noble exchange.
A cry, a righteous cry, erupts in a street to my side, “With the blessings of Saranrae, charge!” Zamieden and his men have joined in the battle, and rushing forward slam into the demon horde. One’s life is quickly ended by the minotaur, though the others strike fiercely into the weakening cultists. Some turn to flee. Zamieden’s righteous blade takes a chunk from the minotaur, while spears stab out of the building at it as well.
As Radiance cleaves into the Daskari priestess again, ending her life, I hear the voice of Aldrick call out boldly, “Faxium is dead, quickly mop up the rest of these fools!”. A thousand blessings upon You, Iomedae, for granting my allies the might to take down such a mighty foe. The spirits of the demons broken, one calls out “Faxium is dead, Jezna must be informed” as they turn to flee. Having already killed the first minotaur, you would think this one would not be so foolish as to lower its guard before me…. but it did and Radiance dealt with the Abyss-spawn appropriately. Stepping through the crowd, I reach the fallen archer and with Your blessing am able to restore life to his body. I am amazed each time this happens, thank You.
Teer and I offer our hands and arms to the fallen knight, a man known to me as Edorres Kelvarane, a knight of Iomedae, and the archer, named Artemis, a scout and guide that served one of the mercenary company’s that had come from Mendev. I likewise embrace Zamieden and his men, welcoming them likewise as well-timed brothers. Looking up, the rest of our company approaches. But all is not well.
Lucius is unmasked, revealed for the first time. His skin is bloody and scarred. Though the blood is fresh, the scars, burns of some sort, are old. Yet beneath the scars I can see scales, not unlike those that were on the faces and flesh of those in Neathholm. Strange indeed, that one would so hastily judge another by their appearance while knowing that the measure of a man is not his flesh, but his heart. I wonder what pains have befallen him.
I would later learned that Lucius’s battle cry was followed by a mighty blow against Faxium’s red flesh ~ flesh that shimmered and briefly revealed magically-hidden metal armor. The demon quickly countered with a mighty swing of its unholy blade, cutting Lucius’ chest nearly in two. It said simply, “pathetic”. Aldrick drew upon the fires of hell to heal Lucius’ wounds while Lathander pulled back Lucius’ mask to feed him a potion, thereby saving his life. Faxium reached for the mask in Lath’s hand, who countered, “not on your life”. But the will of Faxium could not be stopped, and Lath’s hand slowly stretched out and handed it to him. He looked down at Aldrick, and smiling, spoke, “When you’re ready to join the winning side, you know where to find me”, then disappeared.
Seeing the demon-tainted inquisitor approaching, Edorres goes to draw his blade before realizing he has none. There is a brief confrontation in the street between the men, but I call on Edorres, who knows of me through Brother Audrin of the House of the Hallowed Shield, to trust that I speak for both the quality and nature of Lucius and Aldrick. We move inside quickly, where we are greeted by Kayda Hull, the owner of the forge, and her six “warriors”. Though… to call them warriors might be a stretch. Still, they have held up a noble defense and offer guard over a dozen women and children. Kayda embraces Edorres as only a lover could, and tears form in both their eyes. Love reunited.
In gratitude, Kayda offers us food and drink, though it is clear that we are far better off then those within. We decline, and instead share some of our goods. Lath offers healing to the injured and begins tending to their wounds. After a quick few questions, two things are clear: first, there are no great weapons to use against the Enemy here; and second, this place is no longer defensible. It has been assaulted three times, and with our arrival, Faxium will definitely return. We must move, but to where?
Once again I propose the House of the Hallowed Shield, whereas both Lucius and Aldrick are looking simply for the closest place to “unload the baggage” and feel it is too far. Their frank disregard for life is appalling, and I worry that the Devil worshipper is toying with Lucius’s mind. I press the Witch Hunter for answers, about his origin, his nature, his role as a Witch Hunter, and why these demons know of him. He continues to pull rank, but even his confidence in that is weakening. Eventually, he shares some basic details, of how he was born tainted though does not know why, of his punishment and torture at the hands of the Witch Hunters, and about his eventual indoctrination into the order.
Still, we need someplace safe. Edorres’ men are preparing everyone for travel even though we have no specific direction. The archer Artemis suggests an old dwarven tavern, Hammers and Kegs, that lies north of the grand market. Not far, though we will likely pass close to the gate into New Kenabres. Not great, but for the moment it is our best chance.
The sound of a palm cracking across a cheek echoes through the room, and I see Aldrick standing before Kayda, face red. He apologizes for some slight that I missed, and agrees to heal Edorres, though warns it may “hurt a bit”. That infernal bastard, with his tricks and mechanations. I don’t like him, but he has been true to his word to this point. Kayda offers us any arms we can find, and we each add something to our equipment. I find an archer’s training bow, probably designed for a lad being groomed to be a serious archer, that will serve me well, granting me a further reach than my javelins.
We carefully take to the streets and make our way across to the Hammer and Kegs, sticking close to buildings as we move. Upon arrival, Artemis goes to open the secret door, and we are greeted by a dwarf pointing a musket at us.
Iomedae is my Strength.