After the defeat of the disease master, the party headed back to Summerford to let Capt Robart know that they had completed the mission. Upon arrival at the town, they noticed that preparations were still underway for the expected siege. “We are fortunate to have you on our side,” said Capt Robart after learning of the death of the Kur shaman. “You should go see Father Kyle and have him and the other priests ensure that you won’t have any ill effects from your encounter with that evil mongrel,” he continued, eyeing the new shock of white in Trish’s mane. “I’ll see to it that the defenses are the best they can be once the attack comes, but I’ll need you to be as fit as possible when it happens. We’re mostly farmers and settlers here, so professional troops such as you are going to be key to our survival!” Leaving Robart to continue his preparations, the party went to the temple quarter and received a clean bill of health.
As Father Kyle and his priests were completing their inspections, the sound of voices raised in conflict arose in the streets outside. Trish looked out the door to see a crowd forming around a man standing on a box and shouting, “… I tell you it ain’t right nor proper for them to be staying in our town. Weren’t we just attacked this morning on the temple palisade by his ilk? Zeb there lost his hand at the wrist. How is he gonna plow his fields next fire season? His kind are killing us honest hard working folks and I think it’s time we send them a message – loud and clear! So let’s do this! Are you with me?!” The crowd murmured in agreement as the angry man recounted losses to the goblins during the fighting, making point after point, blaming it on the goblin in town. “It’s that damned Itcharat!! We need to make him pay!!!” With this, the angry man started through the crowd that had formed, “Follow me!” he cried. Arming themselves with whatever came to hand, the crowd began to follow, in full bay, like a pack of hounds after a fox. Simon stated, “I know who they are talking about, we need to warn him…” The friends followed Simon as he took them through back ways of the town to where Itcharat ran an inn. As they made the turn into the alley that ended in the door to the inn, they could see the crowd coming slowly from the other direction, although they were still far enough away they couldn’t hear them…yet. Simon pushed open the door to the inn, seeing the scaly, green countenance of the bartender cleaning glasses behind the counter look up at him in alarm from the force of the door opening. There was a flutter from the side of the bar as Max, Itcharat’s gargoyle bodyguard stood and opened his wings quickly to make himself appear bigger to whatever threat was coming through the door.
“Itcharat, there’s an angry mob coming. They feel like you have something to do with the goblins we fought against this morning!” Simon blurted out. Itcharat looked at Simon, and blinked his eyes in surprise. “Must be some sort of mistake.” he said in his gruff voice, “Been here for years, never had any trouble at all! Let me see fer myself”. He put the glass down as he and Max made their way to the door. Prospero directed Grimclaw to watch the back door to the inn. The big panther slunk stealthily over and set up where he could pounce on the first person stupid enough to come in that way. Simon, Prospero, and Trish stepped into the dark alleyway with Itcharat and Max in time to see the beginnings of the crowd come around the corner into the entrance of the street. Itcharat watched in amazement as the alley filled with a seemingly endless sea of bodies carrying torches and makeshift weapons. Prospero moved to one side of the alley and Trish took the other, moving forward in an attempt to get between the crowd and the hapless goblin innkeeper. Not sure what to do, and loathe to get in the way, Walac stood inside the doorway, “No sense in going out there where I might get stepped on,” he thought. Simon strode fearlessly into the middle of the alleyway. Trish growled, “Goblin, you might want to get inside, I don’t think you being out here is helping!” Itcharat moved away from the door, saying in a loud (and he hoped friendly) tone of voice, “Hey, there’s gotta be some misunderstanding…” Suddenly, there was a loud twanging sound and Simon grunted as he was struck in the side by a crossbow bolt. The bolt merely grazed him, and he couldn’t tell where it came from, because his attention had been focused on the crowd in front of him.
Prospero called mentally to Grimclaw, thinking the odds on their surviving this encounter had just gone down drastically, with the beginnings of actual hostilities. Satisfied that the big cat would soon be in a position to fight, he began the ritual that would give them just a little space. Prospero completed his casting, and with a sudden earthy smell, a large wall of thorns appeared across the alley between the group and the crowd. The crowd didn’t slow its advance, continuing forward with single minded determination like a bunch of zombies. Having heard the crossbow, Walac decided to take to the rooftops and try to use his superior night vision to the party’s advantage. He scrambled to the nearest rooftop and started scanning the crowd to try and determine who might have tried to harm his friend. As Simon channeled divine energies to heal his wound, Prospero grunted as his armor deflected the force of another bolt. Max moved swiftly to the barrier to try and act as an intimidating agent against the crowd, who seemed to take as little notice of him as they had of the barrier that had appeared without warning in front of them. Simon caught movement out of the corner of his eye to his right, and realized the crossbow bolts weren’t coming from the crowd at all! They were being fired by an unknown agent of evil on the rooftops! He pointed in the direction of the assassin and yelled, “Look out!! Goblin sniper on the rooftops!” Prospero began to glow as he cast a spell on himself to enhance his armor; that last bolt had been just a little too close for comfort!
Thanks to Simon, Grimclaw saw the assassin as well, as he took another hasty shot at Prospero, missing him. Grimclaw leapt to the rooftops as Trish moved to the barrier shouting to the crowd to halt its advance, but without effect. Simon concentrated his energies, and soon a mirror image of himself popped into being quietly behind the assassin. He then removed a smoke grenade from his equipment, quickly activating and throwing it into the middle of the crowd. The crowd, almost as if it were coming out of a trance, began to react to the smoke in its midst, yelling and moving about. Another crossbow bolt bounced off Prospero’s armor, where he had been covering behind Max’s outstretched wings. Walac spotted the assassin’s movement during this attack; he was across the alley from him. The nimble Lir ran across his rooftop, leaping to the top of a crate next to the building and from it to the cobblestone floor of the alleyway. Stringing his bow, Walac took a hastily aimed shot, but missed the assassin.
Finally tired of the crowd’s hijinks, Max beat his wings, and took a flying leap over the barrier of thorns, dropping himself in the middle of the crowd, where he began to pummel the crowd with his wings and open hands. Meanwhile, Itcharat finally thought better of standing outside in sight of the crowd and went inside to get away from the fray. As Grimclaw ran across the rooftops, the assassin caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and brought his crossbow up catching the panther in the flank. Simon saw this happen through vision that was starting to blur, and though dizzy, he switched places with his mirror image, putting him immediately behind his assailant. From his vantage point on the roof, he saw the crowd starting to disperse, as if the smoke grenade had finally brought them to their senses. Simon quickly focused his energies on being able to bypass the assassin’s armor, and attacked. The assassin swiftly dodged Simon’s attacks, simultaneously drawing a short sword with blinding speed. Seeing the dark figure distracted, Grimclaw attacked with a feral spring, but the assassin dodges again, with uncanny speed. Suddenly, an arrow sprouts from the cloak of the assassin! Walac hit him from the street below, but the arrow can’t get past his armor. As Simon and Grimclaw trade blows with the agent of evil, Trish called to Prospero to drop the barrier, as the crowd is rapidly dispersing. With a brief sound of implosion, the barrier is no more, and Trish rushes to the building where the fight is taking place. Walac continued to fire arrows into the fray, causing the figure to take on the appearance of a frenzied hedgehog, but without doing any real damage. Trish climbs to the roof, and joins the fray. Prospero sighs, then pools his occult energy, sending three bolts of energy streaking across the dark alley at the assassin. The first bolt passes harmlessly over the figures head, causing him to turn slightly as the second bolt strikes him squarely in the chest, and the third bolt hits him squarely in the face, dropping him to the roof, dead. Panting, Simon searches the dead body, finding a sword dripping with a dark colored ichor, a crossbow, a stoppered flask with the same ichor on the outside as is on the sword, and six throwing knives. Additionally, he found a note that read: “Garret, use whatever means necessary, but the wizard, Prospero, and his bodyguard MUST be killed. If possible, kill the martial artist as well. I’m not worried about the barbarian woman and the mouse, but if you can kill them, there will be a bonus for you. However, do not fail me, or I will ensure you will regret it for several lifetimes. Lord Igmar”
Simon suddenly drops to one knee, and realizes that in addition to his blurry vision, and a sense of vertigo, his tongue is swelling. The quick healing spell he did earlier must not have worked. “I need help to get to the temple”, he said, as he carefully stood. Trish took his weight and helped him down from the roof, leaving Garret’s body to be taken care of by the town militia, who, with an impeccable sense of timing, were just arriving on the scene. Minutes later, Father Kyle completed the last of the spells to cleanse Simon and Grimclaw’s wounds. He then moved to look at the stoppered flask . “You’re a lucky man.” He said, shaking his head, “A few more minutes, and you’d have been a dead man instead of a lucky one. This is concentrated scorpion venom oil. It’s typically used by Malamorph assassins. Even if they can’t kill you outright, this stuff will usually do the trick for them. Very difficult to cure.” He turned towards Simon, “I wouldn’t suggest you use this, and frankly, it would lessen my opinion of you if you did. I’ll trade you this healing potion for the last of this poison, so I can study it’s properties.” Simon looked at him wearily and said, “It’s all yours. I don’t want anything to do with it.”
With all of the most recent enemies dealt with, the party headed back to the Citadel to rest. As they approach the courtyard, they notice a large force of cavalry milling about there. “Simon! Prospero!” came a voice from behind the party. “It’s good to see you boys again.” Simon and the rest of the party turn to see the smiling face of the rotund merchant Haven Vendor. “Look what those griffin eggs bought you, my lads! The Ironhoof Centaur Legion of the Nein!” He shook his head, “The kings could not be swayed to send the Veluvian Cohort, but recommended and negotiated these brave lads, and at a greatly reduced price, I might add.” He began to move towards a knot of centaurs in the middle of the courtyard, and gestured for the others to follow, “They were on a far off patrol and I had to push them hard to get them here in time. They are a bit tired, but more than able.” He gestured towards a huge Nein who was stepping away from the herd, “Here, let me introduce you.” The Nein carried a spear that was easily 10 feet long and was wearing shining chain mail about his human parts and leather barding about his hindquarters. On his back, was a bow that no man could string, and a quiver of long arrows that rival the length of the javelins that Windtorn hurls.
“Master Ironhoof,” began the merchant, “This is Simon and Prospero, the heroes of this realm. I have not met their new companions, perhaps you could introduce us, Prospero.” Prospero turns to his companions and states simply, “This is Trish Saturnima, a warrior of the Ahay nation, and Walac Nimrice, a Lir…um… burglar.” At the mention of Walac’s name, Ironhoof’s saddlebag pops open, revealing a dapper Lir’s head. “Cousin!!” the Lir leaped out of the saddlebag, bowling Walac over. “It’s me, your cousin, Malac!!” he chittered excitedly, “I could not let the honor of our Burrow rest solely on your shoulders. We will fight together, side by side, just as we did when our fathers schooled us as pinkskins!!”
Windtorn stepped up to greet Ironhoof. “Well met, old friend. It is good to see an old friend from the home country. This is quite a company you’ve raised.” The centaur looked him squarely in the eye, “Aye Windtorn, but I have not come empty handed to greet you, my old friend.” Ironhoof extended his hand towards Windtorn, with a pendant resting in his palm, “I have brought you this amulet from the elves of Stormwood.” At the mention of his folly, Windtorn’s face went pale, but he remained silent. Ironhoof regarded his friend with a look of pleasure. “Haven has delivered the Sharpsword as you promised them and in return, they have forgiven your sins. Your penance is over. You are a man of valor once more.” He stepped gently forward and placed the amulet around Windtorn’s neck, “It is time to unseal the soldered sword.” The years appear to slide from Windtorn’s face and he stood up ramrod straight. With a mighty heave, he broke the seal on his sword and it came free from the scabbard with a flash in the torchlight. Prospero and Simon watch as their masters, Yarela Flamedreamer and Master Abu-Balardus approach the group from the shadows. “Well met apprentice,” says Yarela. “We have brought five masters from Emancia. One for each element, to help drive off the Lazuri.” A large black crow flaps down from the battlements and settles on Master Abu-Balardus’ shoulder. Windtorn brandishes his newly freed sword and yells, “Let Lord Igmar come! He will find only men of valor awaiting him, and will soon find that they are more than able to defend themselves!!!” The assembled throng cheers.
The next morning dawns to see Capt Robart and Windtorn readying the town’s defenses. The sound of drums begins to throb out of the thicket surrounding the town. Blaring horns join the heartbeat of the drums as trees begin to snap and fall from the large, unseen creatures moving through the brush. Reasonably well rested, the party groups up on the battlements to see what they can of the movements in the thicket and to prepare as best as they can for the coming battle. “Why haven’t they come?” muses Windtorn, as he peers out towards the thicket as if trying to penetrate the cover by force of will alone. “What are they waiting for?” A sudden cry goes up from the watch to their right. “My lords, there is smoke rising from the thicket!” More columns of smoke begin to rise from the thicket, Capt Robart wonders aloud “What devilry has Igmar got in store for us this time.” As the sun slowly creeps across the sky, the columns of smoke begin to meld together to become one, forming a thick, black, greasy curtain that is easily the length of the town. In horror, the defenders watch the wall of smoke starts moving closer to the town. The enemy air forces are easily visible above the smoke, with wyverns, worms and harpies darting this way and that, pointing and laughing at the defenders. Suddenly, with the motion of a school of fish darting away from a hunting seal, the air forces scatter. One wyvern and it’s rider, slower than the others, disappeared into the maw of a massive dragon, whose mighty jaws snapped them up, biting through skin, sinew and bone, flinging the pieces to the ground with a mighty roar. A great cheer goes up from the defenders as the dragon streaks across the sky and comes to a hovering stop. Ormarayu says in a booming voice, “My friends, I have come to help you in your time of need, as you helped me. The vile Lazuri and their ilk must not have the thicket as their own. However, their plan is cunning and we must react now. When the vines of the thicket are burned, they produce a deadly poison. It is a cloud of black death that approaches you!” He motioned his head towards the approaching cloud, “Send every sylph and strong wind the Air Temple priests and your wizards can muster to push back the smoke. I will lead whatever fliers we have to guard them.” As the priests and wizards scrambled to comply, Prospero muttered aloud, “Well, that makes sense of all of the attacks on the Air Temple. Without the sylphs and weather control, the town would have fallen without a fight.” Windtorn calls to Stormwing, and jumps into his saddle as he flies by. The avians Chance and Fate rise with him to flank Ormarayu and they head towards the smoke. Sylphmaster Galen stands in the courtyard surrounded by his initiates and laity calling on Vorthod and Kilwin to send their elementals to his aid. A dozen sylphs begin to form and move towards the black curtain. “Disperse the smoke”, cries Galen as they fly off. Not to be outdone, the Wizards of Emancia send an army of gnomes, sylphs, and undines leaping from their staves and wands to lend their assistance. As the last of the elementals leave, a crashing noise from the thicket heralds the arrival on the field of Igmar’s army. The battle for Summerford has begun.
Four giant dinosaurs were the vanguard of Igmar’s army, felling trees and opening the way for the other creatures coming out of the darkness. The enemy began to array itself on the field as the larger units made way for the smaller. Here Lazuri infantry, cavalry and wyvern riders arrayed themselves into battle lines, and there zombies shuffled after their zombie lords, with fresh grave dirt falling from their rusty dilapidated armor. Goblins capered and gibbered under the harsh command of their hobgoblin commanders as skeletal archers took up positions just within bowshot of the ramparts. Huge manticores stamped, roared and shook their poisonous manes while ogres, varl, kur, minotaurs and elementals shambled out shouting, yelping and shaking their weapons. Finally, as if coming to review the troops, Lord Igmar rode out from the thicket on an enormous lizard. The gates of the town were opened, and the Army of Summerford rode forth into battle. As they moved towards the enemy, the enemy rushed in, and soon the battle was joined. Frantic bodies locked in combat as the centaurs made their way to the enemy first by virtue of their speed. Zombie heads broke open like ripe pumpkins hit with a hammer, and some of the centaurs were felled by vicious flights of arrows buzzing around them like angry bees. Finally joining the fray, the foot soldiers were engaging the varl and kur, and swarming on the larger beasts like maddened ants. Grimclaw pounced on a kur warrior, ripping his throat out without effort, and moved further into the battle. Simon found himself face to face with a kur warrior, slicing him across the chest, and sinking his fighting claw into his neck, dropping him to the ground. As the kur fell to the ground unconscious, Simon looked to his right in time to see a grizzled old combat veteran take an arrow in the throat. The unit behind him ground to a halt, unsure what to do, Simon yelled, “Follow me, younglings”, and plunged ahead into the thick of the battle. Following him, the unit tore into a group of goblins slicing them to ribbons. Prospero concentrated on the kur warrior in front of him, willing a bolt to come forth and incinerate him, but just as he was about to release the power, he was jostled by a centaur rushing forward to spear a manticore. The resulting loss of concentration caused the power to explode in front of him, dazing him momentarily, giving the kur an opening to crush his arm with a mace blow. As Trish cast a disruption spell at the swirling vortex of air in front of her, she was badly slashed in the side by a kur that was then pushed past her in the crush of bodies.
Both sides were taking heavy losses, but the defenders were holding up better than could be expected under the circumstances. Walac slashed at a yipping varl, but the varl ducked under his slash with a thrust of his own that penetrated Walac’s armor, slicing painfully along his ribs. Grimclaw jumped on the back of a demon which roared in anger, and disappeared. Simon lept forward and planted his fighting claw deep in the tiny head of a Stegosaurus, felling it with one blow. It fell to its side and thrashed in its death agony, like a snake without a head, crushing an entire unit of small varl underneath. As Trish tried to staunch the flow of blood from underneath her armor, a medic came up, did a quick incantation which healed the injury as well as could be expected for the battlefield. As a Lazuri Red Sash wyvern rider passed by, Grimclaw leaped into the air like a cat catching a bird and dragged the rider from his seat to be crushed in the skirmish. As Simon surveyed the area, he saw a Lazuri Red Sash wyvern rider swooping toward Capt Robart. Simon took a running jump up and slashed at the rider cutting him across the throat, but the wyvern snapped its jaws shut on his leg, injuring him. Simon dropped panting to the ground as the wyvern flew off, riderless.
With the smoke finally dissipated, the defender’s air support arrived to help with the battle. As one of the Silver Sash Rune Priests turned to cast a spell at Ormarayu, Grimclaw slapped out with his great paw, breaking the priest’s neck. With a great roar, Ormarayu snapped the priest into the air and bit him in half. Seeing this, Igmar turned his lizard around and began to retreat into the thicket, leaving his army to fend for itself. A great cheer arose from the town battlements as his troops began to break off and follow him. The party regrouped on the field, and with Capt Robart and Windtorn began to reorganize the remaining militia, as the Nein, Elves and Yatahay began to pursue the enemy through the thicket. As the sun sets, Ironhoof and a company of his centaurs gallop into the courtyard of the Citadel, coming to a stop in front of Capt Robart and Windtorn. Ironhoof opens a bag and the heads of Beast Master Thang, Kazat the Holy and Tarmoor the Bloodmage fall out and roll to Capt Robart’s feet. “The Lazuri have left the thicket”, states Ironhoof, with the simplicity of his people. “Igmar also fell, but as he did, he cried out to his god and Lazur saw fit to spirit him away. His companions were not so fortunate.”
Over the next few weeks, things returned to normal for the town of Summerford. Burials were made, the bodies of enemies were disposed of in less favorable ways, and the survivor’s happiness was tempered with the sadness of fallen allies. A great feast was held to honor all of those who defended the town from the evil of the Lazuri. The Elves, Nein, and Yatahay all made their departures in the days and weeks since the feast, as they had lands of their own to look after. Prospero took his leave of the party as well, since he was being given the chance to walk the conundrum, which is a great honor for his society and a necessary thing for him to accomplish if he was to continue his sorcerous studies. Capt Robart looked down the road after the retreating forms of the mages. “What about the rest of you?” he said. Simon looked at the remaining members of the party and said, “I have an idea…”