To Distant Shores
Having defeated the spearhead of the horde south of the city, Lucas and the other paladins redirect and charge towards the city center, the Marketplace, as they hear screams and battle from that direction. Upon arriving, they find the Cuthbertian priests advancing into the zombie-infested markets on the north, the dwarves slowly advancing from the east, and near the center Lady Nareve lashing out with arcane fire. Quickly organizing themselves into a battleline with the Cuthbertians and Dwarves, they set to taking back the markets.
Tracking Hammerfel’s aura south from the Carnivale towards the Consortium, Deldund and the rest of the party see the battle and redirect to aide their allies. While everyone is heavily engaged against flying, undead Chulucaw and zombified jungle creatures, one of the dwarves fighting alongside them does something very unexpected. Lucas turns around at a tug at his shoulder, and sees this dwarf running toward the docks with his backpack…the backpack containing the Kenoran Box. Screaming out, he and the party give chase to the disguised Hammerfel.
At first, the other goodly forces are confused and pre-occupied with the zombies, but when Gardal begins to defend himself with channeled unholy power, the Cuthbertians take notice and give chase. As the zombies fall into pursuit of them, the Paladins likewise break-off and the entire force is charging through the ruined markets toward the docks. The ships there are all preparing for departure as the zombie frenzy descends and their captains become desperate to escape. Gardal nearly kills Lucas, cursing his sword arm and body and bestowing a hellish blight through his indiscernible holy symbol. Deldund and he exchange curses and insults as they run, and when Hammerfel runs straight off a dock towards a departing ship, Deldund leaps without a thought. Hammerfel, through some dark gift, stands above the waves and runs as if on land; while Deldund is sunk to the bottom by his heavy armor. The rest of the band charges up the dock to fire arrows at the fleeing dwarf, and Lucas recognizes an Oslander flag flying on the nearest ship.
Deldund pulls himself from the sea and runs down the beach to a rowboat, without a thought for his safety he pushes out into the water in pursuit with a righteous fervor. As Gardal reaches the netting on the back of the ship, Neema strike true with an arrow and the traitor dwarf falls from the ladder, bag in hand. His dark spell keeps him above the waves, but the ship is underway and pulling away quickly. Nims appears on the rear of the ship, and leaps into the water when he sees Gardal fall. They all watch as the ships launch is lowered to the waves to retrieve him. With Nims swimming and his loyal fighters rowing out to the downed dwarf, Neema dives into the water and swims forward with unnatural speed thanks to some tincture prepared by Hobbes. Two paladins join the gnome and Lucas in another rowboat and begin the chase soon after Deldund is knocked from the fight by the enemy archers, left bleeding in his boat as it bobs in the sun.
Neema catches-up to Nims, holding the bag, and they struggle in the water as sharks begin to circle; drawn by the blood of the arrow-stuck dwarf and injured Nimseo. As Neema and Nims struggle at the bottom of the ship, Lucas, Hobbes and the paladins advance towards them, racing the other launch. Arrows are traded between both parties, and as Nims gains the upper hand against Neema in the water combat, his sailors reach them first and pull them aboard. The paladins are close behind as they reach he side of Nimseo’s ship and are hauled up. Neema, unconscious from her injuries, is being passed over the rail when Lucas calls upon all of his holy might and channels a healing wave across the intervening space. His blessing breathes life back into her limbs, and as he awakes in the surprised arms of the sailors, she twists from their grasp. She grabs hold of the bag with the Kenoran box and leaps over the rail into the shark infested waters next to the paladin row boat.
The same healing power affected Nimseo, and in his madness he leaped off the ship as well. Panicked for their captain’s safety, two of his crew leapt after him and landed in Luke’s boat. With all of these bodies trying to climb into the rowboat, the dinghy capsized and everyone was pitched into the water with the blood-crazed sharks. The resulting frenzy saw Neema break into swimming sprint for shore with the box and Hobbes on her back, Nims in desperate pursuit. Lucas struggled in his full plate armor to stay afloat, but failed miserably thanks to Hammerfel’s curse. He began to desperately strip off his armor as he sank toward the bottom of the sea.
Deldund drifted in a hazy state near death in the boat far behind them, for some reason looking at Hammerfel as they both lay on a bed of moss in some kind of tinkling cavern-dream state.
The sharks went after Neema, some others stayed to drag sailors under. The paladins continued to fight the sailors even at their extreme disadvantage while Lucas continued to sink. Arrows were fired at the fleeing southlander and gnome, and the sharks nipped at both them and Nims. Nims was the next to be dragged beneath the waves by frenzied sharks. Halfway back to shore, an arrow drove deep into Neema’s back, piercing a lung. She began to sputter and fail, and a shark was able to grab hold of her. Hobbes was forced to let go as the Weapon of the Cathar was drug beneath the waves by a predator she finally could not best. The flailing gnome managed to dog-paddle and sputter his way back to Deldund’s boat, nearly drowning himself repeatedly along the way.
Lucas finally freed himself from his armor, but he had already sunk nearly to the bottom, sixty feet below the bloody frenzy at the surface. He thrashed his arms and legs, weakened by Hammerfel’s curse, and even his prayers to Heironeous were not enough to draw him back to the top. He thrashed violently as water rushed into his lungs and his body spasmed desperately for air. Then he stopped struggling, and drifted back down.
The gnome pulled himself over the edge of Deldund’s rowboat, and proceeded to exert himself in rowing the craft back to shore. As it ran aground, he examined the dwarf, and could not find a pulse or breathing through his thick beard and skin. Concluding the blind priest had also fallen, the gnome pulled the rowboat upside down over them both and the box, protection against the raging fight still burning across South Landing, and passed-out, exhausted.
When he woke hours later, he trudged south to the Turtle Pits and found Cocolongo still hiding with the Capiberras. They both went to the healing tents, and with great effort Hobbes was able to find a cleric to come collect Deldund’s body. When they arrived, the cleric exclaimed that the dwarf was in fact still alive! He prayed to the Lightbringer, and was able to warm the dwarf’s heart enough to wake him from the cloying death-nap. Deldund’s emotions were mixed. His obsession had been fulfilled, Vengeance had been met out upon Gardal Hammerfel’s traitorous soul.
On the other, the noble Lucas Dragonheart and loyal Neema were both dead in the process. Even Hobbes, truly shaken by the fact his life had been saved by Neema at the expense of her own, and the realization that he had not doubted to risk his life to save his comrades and the Kenoran box, found himself at a total loss for words. They collected what few possessions remained of their friends, and Deldund himself performed last rites for both of their souls, sending out burning boast for them both in company with the Paladins of Heironeous and goodly priests despite the massive reconstruction and clean-up still required across the city.
Neema awoke on a sandy, breezy beach. As she stood and looked around, she saw ancestor spirits gathering at edges of the forest. As she continued to turn, she suddenly came face to face with the same Warrior Spirit that had been drawn into her veins by the Shamans in her village. The ancestor placed a hand on Neema’s forehead, and motioned toward the trees, “Welcome home, child of the Cathar.”
Lucas awoke to the sound of waves as well. He looked up to find himself in the back of a rowboat, with a bearded man in simple robes rowing them along. The man was wearing a prominently displayed symbol of Heironeous on his breast and greeted the young paladin, “Good morning, Lucas Dragonheart.” Luke was confused, and questioned the man. He continued, “It is a Good Morning, Champion.” As they approached the shore, Lucas saw the biggest temple-fortress he had ever witnessed rising from the rocks. It was far beyond anything he could comprehend in Osil, or any other mortal place.
“Is this Elysium?” he asked
“Yes, champion,” the man chuckled as they rode ashore. He stepped from the boat and offered hand to Luke, “Well come along, Dragonheart. You were called by Righteous One, and the shedding of your mortal coil does not your duty shed. There is much work yet to be done.”
On the empty docks of South Landing, the burning boats drifting out to sea, Hobbes and Deldund contemplated their situation in silence. Their enemies lay dead beneath the sea, but so do their friends. Friends they had not realized had touched so deep a nerve in them both. The strange Kenoran box rested safely in their hands. South Landing was still smoldering, purging the population of infection. Far more concerning, Every ship at anchor had sailed-off in a panic, which gods knew how many of their crews already infected with whatever hellish plague had been visited upon the city (which Deldund has no doubt was Hammerfel’s doing). They could spread the devastation to every port of Henal and beyond. The situation was dire, but they were exhausted and at loss for what to do. For now, they stared into the setting sun at two smoking pyres and mourned the souls they bore…
End of Book 1