To the Top
Tereus had been a noble’s military messenger through several border conflicts with Koth and had run missives between commanders of thousands, but never had he seen such conditions as that night. Count Clavanades’ messenger made his way through the fields of carnage and torrential rain. The ground still quivered from a tremor which seemed to radiate from Tor Al’Kiir. The effort to reach Tullweim, the barbarian commander of the Crimson Wolves, caused the Ophirian soldier to pant between words and raw fear masked his face at what he was told to ask. “Sir, <huff> Count Clavanades <huff> wants a report on the lights atop the Tor. <huff> Does the god of legend awake? <huff> Does doom approach?” The Aesir cast a grim look towards Tor Al’Kiir and told the messenger to tell the Count the Crimson Wolves would check it out. Tullweim then ordered Countess Synelle’s cavalry to escort the messenger and join Clavanades’ main column against General Iskandrian.
As the mercenary company made towards Tor Al’Kiir, Dhak heard a gurgling noise on the ground. Among the bodies of the dead he found one of the Ophirean soldiers pinned underneath his horse and drowning in a puddle of rain. The sorcerer grabbed the man’s hair and lifted his head out of the water. The fallen man-at-arms gasped for breath and panicked when lightning flashed and he saw the murderous intent in the Stygian’s eyes. Dhak spoke ancient words of dark aspect and pushed the soldiers’ neck into the edge of the his blade, which allowed him to harvest the man’s life for sorcerous power. The Stygian then dropped the man’s head back into the puddle which quickly grew darker as blood mixed with water.
As the Crimson Wolves approached Tor Al’Kiir, occasional ghostly lights were still seen at the top, but there were fewer of them among the crashes of lightning. The moon slipped behind racing black clouds, which plunged the company into oppressive gloom. The 23 mercenaries paused at the bottom of the Tor and knew no horses could ever make it up the steep slope. They dismounted knowing they must climb and searched for handholds among their sputtering torch light. Though the Tor was covered with ledges and bushes, the rain hindered the soldiers from making much progress. Only the Cimmerian Cuana had an easy go at it. He climbed up the 250 feet to the top and paused only to tie a 50 foot length of rope in intervals. Some close calls were had where a mercenary lost his grasp and dangled perilously for a moment but none of the Crimson Wolves fell. Finally, after much toil and effort the top of Tor Al’Kiir was reached.
The Crimson Wolves hid behind a lichen-encrusted block of stone, once the keystone in some monstrous arch. The rain came down in sheets but all else was still. Before the mercenaries laid ruins, roofless halls and decapitated columns mangled by black ivy. Among the columns were 20 black figures, manlike in form, six of which held torches around a fire that sputtered but somehow kept alight. Their hides shone metallically. Two curved horns shone from their heads, two more from their cheeks, which reminded the adventurers of Katos’ ring. Behind them gaped a dark set of stairs which led down into the earth. The sound of chanting reached up out of the dank hole, the hideous sounds of a language long dead drove obscenely into their minds. The horned figures whispered among themselves and took no heed of the Crimson Wolves.
The mercenaries planned to move about the perimeter and take the fight to their foes from 2 directions. They split into 2 groups and Dhak moved through an opening in a ruined wall. The Stygian felt the ground begin to give as he stepped and it was but for his quick reflexes that he did not stumble into a hidden pit 20 feet deep. The mercenaries moved out avoiding the concealed pits as they found them and were watched the entire time by the guards at the stairs. But the minions of Al’Kiir held their position until Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith charged. Two of the Crimson Wolves as well as Cuana fell into a pit and almost died. About half of the horned minions moved forward to engage the mercenaries. Still weakened by poison, Dhak stayed at the back of the group and cast a spell of torment on one of Al’Kiir’s minions which caused him to hit the ground wailing. Several of the Crimson Wolves attacked the helpless opponent and ended his screams. Other Wolves coordinated their attacks, sundered the minions’ shields and sent their opponents to hell with a swing of their greatswords. Cuana and one of the two mercenaries that had fallen into the pits climbed back up. The rain continued to pound the combatants as if angry, screams rent the air as men from both sides were slain or maimed, allies fell into pits, the evil sound of the impassioned worshipers chants from below all began to meld into one red roar as Cuana went into a fighting madness and slashed at anything with four horns on its head. Finally, the combat ended with the Crimson Wolves victorious. Or so they thought.
The stairs before them were hoary with age and led down into vaults long unknown and better forgotten. The chanting in the earth’s bowels had grown louder and more frantic. A faint demonic piping and rolling beat reached them, more through the soles of their feet than through their ears. There was an urgency in the vibrations, something primeval. The Crimson Wolves felt compelled to move toward the source of the dark music, drawn into blackness. Though Cuana, Dhak, Tullweim, and Xacksmith fought the urge, dark thoughts and a mad rage came over many of the mercenaries. They looked upon their sword brothers with a mask of hatred on their faces and raised their weapons.