Hunt - Chapter Twenty-Six
~ 26 ~
27 Arodus, 4692 AR; Defender's Heart, Kenabres
27 Arodus, 4692 AR; Defender's Heart, Kenabres
"There are many planes surrounding each other in orbit. We, humans, half-elfs, dwarves and more, live in the Material Plane where the energy and geography of all the other planes intersect and join together. These energies create the forces we know such as gravity, thermal energy, and most notably of all, magic. Using these energies, a skilled magi can create their own planes and dimensions. They are usually unstable and last for seconds. However, with the right spells they can be made permanent."
Shayliss's gaze moved over the page of arcane sigils and notes. She could feel her eyes losing focus, her mind unable to grasp the concepts that Planes, Planar Creatures and Theories of Existence supposedly 'introduces.' It could just be that she had no training or innate magical talent. Or she could be tired from the approaching winter. But she felt that it was more the fact that the author had no idea how to dumb down complex topics like the dimensions that make up our world so that anyone could read it. Sure, the introduction was fine, but they quickly shifted gears and Shayliss could not make the mental hurdle to follow. Her knowledge of the subject was so basic that she always confuses the Astral and Ethereal Planes.
Placing her bookmark into the book, she laid back against the headrest of her bed and rubbed the palms of her hands against her eyes. It was a feeble attempt to stave off the headache that was forming at her forehead. If anything, she made it worse. A sigh escaped her mouth and she flung herself off of her bed. Muscles screamed as she contacted the floor, causing her to stumble a small bit.
"Damn demons." She muttered like an old woman, "Making me fight them endlessly."
Shayliss stretched, the muscles tensing up even more, her calves threatening to tangle. Yet, it helped reduce the discomfort. As she did, she could hear shouts and yells from below. She smirked at that, "The red demon Mordria strikes again."
A second later, the shouts suddenly stopped. Her stomach fell when she realized what that meant. Especially when the shouts of joy were replaced by barks of orders and stomps of various kinds of greaves.
The familiar bootfalls of Irabeth approached Shayliss's door and the half-orc opened the door, "Grab your allies. We must talk." Her voice was tense and commanding. She assumed her role as a captain.
Five minutes later, she and the rest of her group were standing within the cramped quarters of Irabeth, who was sitting on the edge of her desk. Next to her, standing with his hands behind his back was a tanned man in his seventies. His skin was practically defined by wrinkles only broken up by what was almost a fatal wound running from his neck down into his robe and an eagle leg tattoo on his cheek. His neutral expression gave him the appearance of a stiff and rude man, but he gave each person a nod as they entered the room.
Once she saw that everyone in the room has gotten acquainted with each other, Irabeth gave the group a tense smile, "I must thank you again for all that you have done, even during your supposed rest. But," her gaze lowered in embarrassment, "I must also ask you to do even more."
Shayliss tilted her head, "What do you mean?"
Irabeth turned her body around and reached out to grab some papers stacked on her desk, "As horrific as recent events have been, we've," she motioned to herself and the man, "come to realize that they are, in fact, merely a prelude." She stood up with enough force to toss some of the ignored sheets of paper onto the ground, "The razing of the Kite, the destruction of our wardstone, Terendelev's murder, and the assault on the city were nothing more than goddamn opening gambits!" Her voice rose higher and higher until it reached a crescendo and Shayliss could see that she was holding herself back from slamming her fist into her desk.
Strune did not look any better. The warpriest was gritting her teeth, using the force of her jaws to release the tension in her body unsuccessfully. The other members of the group were carefully holding back their emotions. Snaga was the most successful, crossing his arms over his chest. His eyebrows were the only sign of his anger. Mordria and Kaira both were moving restlessly, as if they wanted to just run outside and fight whatever they saw.
Shayliss stepped forward before anyone could do anything destructive, "Opening gambits? They have a plan?"
Irabeth sighed, "Yes. The Worldwound is on the march in a more concentrated assault than we've seen since the fall of Drezen decades ago. It's fair to say that the Lord of the Locust Host is finally making his move." When she mentioned the Lord of the Locust Host, something in Shayliss's chest wiggled around uncomfortably, "While the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth were scattered, those who serve the Lord of the Locust Host himself remain concentrated in Old Kenabres. What we've heard from within the barricade they've erected is ominous."
"Barricade?" Shayliss narrowed her eyes in thought, "They have a base of operations here besides the Templar hideouts?"
Kaira responded, "The Grey Garrison. Despite its name, it is a museum that holds relics of past Crusades."
Shayliss blinked in surprise at Kaira who simply shrugged.
Irabeth continued on, "The cultists are waiting for something, and based on our own information and what the teams taking out the hideouts recovered, it sounds like the vile witch Areelu Vorlesh will soon be coming to Kenabres. And it appears that we've determined what she intends to do."
She refers to the sheets of paper in her hand, "When the wardstone was destroyed by the Storm King, it exploded and destroyed the Kite. The network along the border failed, but did not fade completely. I believe this is because a significant portion of our wardstone still exists, and that the cultists have taken it to the Grey Garrison in Old Kenabres. From what we've learned, they're hoping to engineer a way to somehow reverse the field generated by the wardstones-essentially, to use our own greatest defense as a devastating weapon."
A loud gasp of surprise came out from Shayliss. The man gave her an approving look as she said, "Dear gods. They've managed to gather all of the Crusaders at the network. It's an obvious result of their massive attack."
Strune glanced at Shayliss with a questioning look, "Why does that matter? It just means that our defenses are at its best, right?"
The sinking of Shayliss's stomach quickened, "That is true, but they have also created a trap that we have walked right into." She stared right into Irabeth's eyes, "Reversing the border will essentially do what it has done to the demons to us, right?"
Irabeth nodded right as Snaga let out a snort of agreement, "Correct. We have lined up for the slaughter. The only hope we have is the fact that Vorlesh is seeking some sort of great power, most likely the Nahyndrian Crystal. With it, she would turn our greatest hope into a terrible nightmare. But that also means that she is not here, and that they are not ready to enact their plan yet."
Shayliss's stomach slammed into rock bottom, "You want us to go in and destroy the wardstone fragment."
Silence filled the room for a second. Then, with the confidence of a leader, Irabeth gave Shayliss a respectful, slow nod.
Before her head returned to its resting position, Strune yelled, "Excuse me? You want us to what?"
Irabeth does not react to Strune's outburst except to give her an apologetic look, "I know that is not what you wanted to hear from me."
"You do know what will happen if the Wardstone Barrier falls, right?" Strune asked, only barely controlling her volume, "The Barrier is the only thing keeping the demons from overrunning the rest of Golarion! If it falls, then the demons have free rein to go out and do whatever they please!"
"I know. But the results of Vorlesh's plan is even worse. At least if the fragment is destroyed, the Crusaders still survive to fight another day. If Vorlesh succeeds, then we won't even have that certainty. If we are lucky, then they will all be dead. If not, then we will have mindless abominations wandering around as the Abyssal energy courses through their bodies destroying any semblance of their humanity."
Strune gritted her teeth, "Then why can we not just steal the wardstone and protect it?"
Shayliss sighed, "Unfortunately that is not an option." At Strune's annoyed look she continued, "At this point, in its current state, the Wardstone is only a liability. As long as it remains, it can be used against us."
Strune stared at Shayliss for a couple of seconds before letting out a growl, "Fine."
Seeing that the group was in agreement, Shayliss asked, "How are we to destroy the fragment? Wasn't it created by a god?"
Irabeth gave Shayliss a small smile, "Not quite. It was the Herald of Iomedae, the Hand of the Inheritor. And I know what you mean. Quendys here," she motions to the man, "has something that will help."
The man stands up straight and reaches behind him. Hidden by his robe was a pure white rod of wood. Its handle was made from a twisting pattern and right above the handle the rod split in half. Within the two prongs of the rod was a green, irregularly cut emerald. When he passed it to Shayliss, she could feel the power that was coursing through the object vibrating against her hand.
"That is a Rod of Cancellation." Quendys explained, "I had to work on it some, but it should cancel out the power of the wardstone. Otherwise, you would have to physically destroy it, which is near impossible for anyone other than a powerful mythic creature."
Shayliss nodded and slipped it in her sword belt, "How do we use it?"
"All you have to do is touch it against the wardstone. Then, hopefully, it will work its magic. It has multiple charges just in case it fails the first time."
Shayliss nods, "What is the plan for getting into the Garrison? I assume that the demons are bottled up in there, protecting the wardstone."
"You are correct." Irabeth said, "According to Kaira, they have concentrated most of their forces in the Garrison. Yet, there are small units still roaming the city." She pulls out a map of the city and unfolds it. As if being pulled, the group moved to her desk and looked over each other's shoulders, "Here, here and here, scouts report that there are still demons moving around. The plan is to go on the offensive, sending groups of Crusaders out to raise havoc at these spots. This and other activities of the Crusaders will gain the attention of the defenders and force them to send forces out to meet us. That is when we will attack the Garrison while it is at its weakest."
Shayliss glanced at the half-orc, "'We?' Does that mean you will be joining us?"
"Assuming you will have me."
"Of course," Shayliss gives her a grin, "I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Good. Then, we will-"
There is a series of hard knocks on Irabeth's door. Shayliss and the others reached for their weapons. Irabeth did not, but her voice came out weary, "Enter."
A helmeted Crusader wearing the crest of a squad captain walked in and gave Irabeth a textbook salute, "Captain! An army has appeared at our door. They say they are mongrelmen who are here to help."
Irabeth's eyes widened, "That was fast. Chief Sull can get work done."
"I have a feeling he has been ready ever since we talked to him." Shayliss said, "He seemed to have more of an idea of what was going on than a normal person."
"That's the feeling I got when I met with him too." Irabeth agreed. Her next sentence was aimed at the Crusader, "Let their captain come up and talk with us."
The Crusader saluted again and hurried down the stairs. Moments later, irregular footfalls echoed into the office and Lann appeared in the doorway.
"It has been a while, hasn't it?"
Shayliss gave him a smile that she could not hide, "It's good to see you, Lann. I did not think you would be leading the First Descendants."
He gave her the best smile he could, "I didn't either." He walked forward, "Do we have a plan of attack?"
Irabeth ran him through what was already talked about. At the mention of destroying the wardstone, he did not seem to react. Instead, he just listened to Irabeth's explanation and at the end asked, "Where do you need us?"
"We will need you to help us attract the demons. Not only that, but while we are inside the Garrison, we will need forces to keep the demons from coming in and flanking us."
Lann nodded, "Understood." He looked down at the map, "With your permission, I'll place my forces here, here, here and here. The remaining will be at the Garrison surrounding it here, here and here. We will keep the demons at bay as long as possible."
"Any estimation?" Shayliss asked.
"Maybe a few hours. We have not had such a large battle in decades, so it is hard to estimate exactly."
"That's all we can hope for." Irabeth folded the map, "Alright. We head out in half an hour. Lann, get your men in position. You'll be heading out first as you can move fast and silently. Attack as soon as you get the signal."
Lann gave her a salute and walked out of the room. Irabeth then turned to the Shayliss and the rest, "We will also move before the rest of the Crusaders. We need to be in position when the offensive starts."