The Fallen Lands: The Ruins of Numinis

5.3

Fire and Brimstone

The party spent some time observing the activities in the Well of Blood and the adjacent warehouse. After much discussion, they determined that they could no longer wait to act. Despite their exhaustion and wounds, they needed to do something to disrupt the ritual around Gruumsh’s body.

They spent some time discussing their options, and in the end, decided on a course of action that had a slight chance of making a difference, though it was fraught with peril.

Malidar, Rangrim, and Rhio would sneak into the more flammable parts of the city and light it on fire, setting as much of the city aflame surrounding the Well as they could. The distraction and destruction would, hopefully, disrupt the army’s future plans. They faced dangers of being caught by stray patrols of monsters, or becoming trapped by the very flames they had set.

Ginni, meanwhile, would sneak into the warehouse and interrupt the ritual. She risked not just failure, but the high possibility of being caught or identified by Asteroth, the lead tiefling arcanist. If he spotted her, if he knew who she was, there would be no chance of escape, and death was a near certainty.

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The men worked their way stealthily through the city. They found materials, carefully avoiding detection, but when it came time to light them, their flint and steel kits were still damp from the sewers, and they had nothing to light the fires. They spread out to find something, anything, that might be used— even some discarded coals, still smouldering, might be useful.

As they moved around the dingy alley, Rangrim knocked over a barrel, and a shout from an upstairs window made all three of them look up. A small patrol of monsters heard it and charged down the alley, carrying weapons and torches. Rhio swiftly slit the throat of one, but the orc slashed his leg with a jagged knife, and it began to bleed heavily. Malidar tried to move closer to Rangrim, moving swiftly to take out his opponent. And Rangrim faced off against two foes, a glint of joy in his eyes as he whirled his axes, thrashing a hobgoblin and a half-orc into submission. He caught the torch just as it hit the ground, grinning with satisfaction.
-
Inside the warehouse, Ginni was terrified. Disguised as a half-orc warrior woman, she had already had to evade the leering advances of a few less hygienic monsters. She’d positioned herself in the middle of the crowd, close enough to see the ritual, but far enough not to be spotted.

Except it looked like no ritual she was familiar with. On a higher platform in the back, the leaders of the Sons, enormous specimens of their kinds, sat in places of honor, their snarling visages filled with pride at the army they had gathered. On a low dais before them, the glass casket was open, smoke billowing out from it, stretching out to the crowd, then billowing back, like some seeking, living thing. Behind it, two tieflings worked— one manipulating the arcane energies directly, and the other—

Ginni’s breath caught. She recognized him. Despite expecting Asteroth and the tiefling who’d given her the visions to be one and the same, she hadn’t been prepared to see him again. Her blood ran cold, and her feet took two involuntary steps back, ready to run. He seemed to be watching the crowd, leaning heavily on his staff, but not really participating in the casting of any ritual she could sense. Every time his gaze fell on her section of the crowd, Ginni ducked her head. Instinctively, she knew— meeting his eyes would mean recognition. And death.

Focusing, she decided on the only course of combat she could think of. If the smoke were truly a negative energy, could she perhaps push positive life energy into it, undermine it? Whatever was going on, it was powerful, but at this stage, it might still be a fragile spell, easily broken. But she was so tired…. This would use the last of her own restorative energies, and she didn’t know if it would work.

She tried it anyway.

It didn’t work.

Inside the casket, Gruumsh’s hands moved.
-
As they watched the flames leap from building to building, Rangrim, Malidar, and Rhio felt a shuddering thunderbolt out of nowhere— evidence of some kind of arcane happenings at the Well of Blood. Malidar muttered “atta girl,” and they began to make their way back to the rendez-vous point. The circling flames became increasingly more fierce, however, and they were now easily spotted, darting among the fires. Several times they were chased by monsters, eventually holing up in an abandoned building, the beasts circling outside, but the flames closing in and choking them.

Coughing, Malidar handed out thin strips of cloth to his friends and put one over his mouth and nose, helping to shield against the smoke. It wasn’t much, but it would help, and the three of them were hardy, at least. For this, he was glad their frail wizardess wasn’t with them— she’d have weakened much more quickly than they, and they just didn’t have any margin for error now.

As the fires leapt around them, Rhio remained extremely still, almost withdrawn. Malidar touched his friend on the shoulder, just once, reminding him that this was not the fight with the baalor, and he was not going to die.

Finally, the heavy footfalls of the monsters outside receded. Rangrim motioned to his two companions, and they darted out of the building, covering the sound of their coughs as they ran towards the Well.
-
Ginni felt her own life force swirl among the magical energies and become completely absorbed by them, grounding into Asteroth’s staff as if into a drain. The rest of the spectral smoke had expanded, piling up, though Ginni also caught the scent of burning wood in the air, and smiled to herself. Good job, boys. If she didn’t make it out— a prospect that was becoming increasingly likely, now— she was glad that they’d managed to take a strike at part of the army’s resources.

If only I were more powerful, she thought, and it was the first time she’d ever doubted her abilities so distinctly. She longed for a strike of fire, or hail of lightning bolts— something direct, forceful, immediate! Something to knock that bastard Asteroth off the dais and give him a bloody nose to think about!

She looked up again, and this time her gaze fell not on the tiefling who so thoroughly dominated her thoughts and fears, but on the raised platform behind him.

The leaders of the Sons of the Beast, impressive, mighty creatures in their own right, sat arrayed there, like weapons waiting for a master. A hobgoblin with a pair of snarling dogs. An overgrown gnoll, his own dog-like head sniffing the air experimentally. An enormous ogre, lazing back, bored, picking at the splinters in the butt of his club.

The plan formed in her mind so clearly, she almost laughed at its simplicity. She wasn’t some honest, straightforward fireball thrower. She was something much, much worse— a deceiver and a cheat. She concentrated her power, focusing on planting a whisper of unease into the ogre’s mind. She focused thoroughly, aware that she was opening herself to discovery by Asteroth, now— it was impossible to work magic in the middle of ritual completely unseen. And yet… Ginni was a master at deception, and she slid her magic into a layer underneath the main spell, so that it felt more like a sympathetic thrum of blood magic from the crowd, and less like an intruder.

After what seemed like forever, the arcane energies now formed into such an enormous ball of power, Ginni was surprised no one could actually see it. The hair on her arms stood up, and she saw the monsters near her were similarly bristled.

Casually, on the platform, the ogre seemed unaffected, but he stood up, stretched slightly, and lifted his club onto his shoulder. He took two lumbering steps down onto the dais, approaching Asteroth. The tiefling’s eyes were half-closed, but Ginni could see they were completely subsumed with flames. And yet, he seemed so much smaller next to the ogre leader, who hulked above him, apparently uninterested in the proceedings, and unthreatening.

Until he lifted the club off his shoulder and swung, smashing into Asteroth’s spine with a meaty crack and throwing the tiefling fifteen feet off the dais.

The monsters in the crowd roared their approval.

Ginni would have cheered with them, except the force of the connection between Asteroth and Gruumsh shattered, and the magic reverberated through the room like a shockwave. Her teeth rattled, and the thread of power between her and the ogre snagged in the magic, pulling at her with a force so potent, she tasted blood. She staggered forward, her body involuntarily heeding the draw of her own magic. Worse, she felt her own arcane reserves open up, pouring what little arcane energy she had left into the storm of power circling over Gruumsh’s casket. Maybe it was being sucked out of her by the void left by Asteroth, or maybe it was desperate, instinctive bid to sever the connection and be free. Or, maybe, some small part of her wanted to help the world burn.

As the smoke sucked into the casket and Asteroth, dazed on the floor, shrieked for vengeance, a tremendous rumbling shook the warehouse. The monsters around Ginni grew quiet and confused as they realized this was not part of the show, and Asteroth’s fury was about to be unleashed. Most couldn’t have pronounced the words “collateral damage,” but they all knew it was time to get the fuck out. As they surged towards the exit, they all heard and felt the bellowing, rage-laden roar of Gruumsh, resurrected.

5.3
mortaine

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