Lengara’s mind dashed through the developments before him.
The Heart of Io, stolen. An ally, Klemnon, potentially betraying his friends, potentially insane. McWands, captured but clearly also part of the betrayal. And a battle engulfing their means of escape from the dangerous Astral Plane raging outside the Mechanism’s door.
All in all, not a great way to begin the next few minutes of one’s potentially very short life.
Taking a deep breath to re-center his focus and allow himself to master the anger, the fear, even the overwhelming murderous desires now trying to surface, Lengara turned to face his current allies.
“The Wishmkngers are real. They are REAL!” ranted a wild eyed Klemnon as he turned to sprint back into the Sphere. Lengara was taken aback, Klemnon continued to act in ways that surprised and even confused everyone, even the eladrin.
Ignoring the cleric for a moment … after all, where could he go, Lengara turned to the others. “Very well, how do we get the Heart of Io, back? And can we please kill McWands?”
Realizing the result that would have, he hastily, if someone unabashedly added to Tin, “We can raise you from the dead.”
But frankly the confusion in the party was rising and things were not getting better with the rapid appearance of another Astral vessel now pulling away from the scene even as the angellic crew of the Oathbreaker fought off the remainders of the boarding party left by the fleeing vessel.
Drengy, the cult scarred archer, was the first to really react as he strode out onto the docking terrace between the Oathbreaker and Mechanism. He was drawing and notching and loosing arrows so fast Lengara almost couldn’t see the individual motions. At this range and without cover, Lengara really had no doubt that someone was dying, but it probably wouldn’t stop the enemy ship.
“We have to get after that ship! Now!” Legara pronounced.
Tin pushed McWands out of the Doorway, now bound and at least temporarily gagged. The others were discussing what to do next when Klemnon began shouting an incoherent stream of words, “I … I can still fix this! It can all still work! I’ll be able to save us all!” as he triggered the conduits of the Sphere of Tasnia’s Infernal Mechanism.
Lengara wasn’t terribly surprised when he was ignored. Tin and Feral were arguing about how to safely retrieve Klemnon. They were loyal to their friend even when it was clear that he was as redcap-insane as any three sheet Pixie you could ever meet. Feral tried pleading with his friend to remember all the good he had done and the trust he had in his friends and come out- to no avail. Tin tried cloaking himself in a hedgewizard illusion to appear as what Tin assumed Klemnon might think a “Wishmonger” would look like and ordered Klemnon to stand down, but the unhinged cleric only became more deranged and paranoid of being fooled again. All the while a rising thrum and a dangerously erratic discharge of primal energies inside the sphere made it clear that Klemnon had already reactivating the sphere’s powers.
That. Was not good.
For good or ill, Klemnon now had Lengara’s full attention and suddenly the anger and rage was gone, giving way to fear … a very well educated fear at what a ritual caster might be able to do with all that raw power. Or perhaps not be able to control.
“Amaunator’s Nuts,” Lengara cursed under his breath, that crazy priest is gonna get us all killed. Really? The Dark One himself was probably laughing at Lengara and his fool allies right this instant. Biting down the urge to just slam the door shut he decided to assist Feral and Tin in trying to talk the Pelorite down.
But it wasn’t going to work. Blinking in frustration and trying to go through his list of available options, Lengara decided to try and use his most powerful hammer. Magic, of course. Slowly he worked the runes in his mind and in the air and let the power grow. Then he cast the illusion. At Klemnon.
A shimmering doorway appeared, its magic drawing at Klemnon, daring him to strike at Lengara.
To this, Lengara added a plea: “Klemnon, listen to your friends, listen to us! We are stronger together and we have a much better chance as a group of undoing whatever has just happened. Come back with us, now!”
For his part, Klemnon wasn’t going to fall for Lengara’s illusions. He had far too much experience in the last few weeks to fall to that guile. But, for an instant, lucidity seemed to return to the priest and his words. Weak and confused, he answered Lengara’s call.
“What, what am I doing here …. oh.” Klemnon realized the enormity of what he had done, and perhaps what he was about to do. In Lengara’s senses, the Sphere’s magick’s of teleportation and transmutation were already thick and cloying.
“No, go without me. You’ll need these!” as he kicked the treasure case that had been on the Mechanism’s control platform through Lengara’s transit portal to the party. “Go! Get out of here!” Klemnon ordered as he pushed down on a rune on the pedestal and the single door to Tasnia’s artifact began to roll shut.
“Damnit! We have to go NOW!” the eladrin warlock shouted.
Lengara wasn’t even waiting to see if anyone was coming with him, he was not getting taken to wherever Klemnon’s addled mind had decided to spin the sphere to, he was just diving out of the “foyer” of the Mechanism and over the intervening space back onto the Oathbreaker. Somewhere along the way, Tin, Feral and McWands ended up making the same jump and they all tumbled onto the deck as the sphere vanished in a massive thunderclap. The shockwave washed over them weakly as they stood.
“Zotz,” Lengara cursed, brushed himself off and turned slowly to examine the new situation.
Drengy was already giving orders to the crew to make ready to chase the fleeing ship. Tin was busy helping the crew jerry-rig repairs to the scorched and battered rigging. Feral seemed lost in sorrow and fell to his knees to roar a mournful howl over his friend’s descent into madness. Despite the urgent work all around him, Feral slowly took up and opened the box Klemnon had sent the party before vanishing. Inside was a kings fortune of rare gems, but the treasure offered no solace to the loss felt by the normally raging half lycantrope.
Lengara strode to the bound McWands. “Tie him to the mast and keep him gagged,” the warlock glowered.
One of the crew noted that the Oathbreaker
did have a brig. Several glances of confusion and then agreement were exchanged amongst the party. Sure, a brig would work.
“Then … take him below and make sure he remains blinded and gagged,” amended the eladrin.
Everyone returned to examining the pursuit of the Cult of Saerenclaw vessel. Drengy had apparently killed enough of their crew that the halflings Blackjaw members had fled below deck and the Malar huntsman turned invisible. The Oathbreaker was gaining, but not swiftly. Crewmembers were running this way and that tying down broken rigging, making repairs, doing what they could to clear the decks. Feral tossed the dead raiders’ bodies overboard after Tin had picked them clean. Less weight might make the Astral dromond faster?
Lengara rather doubted it, but really who wanted to see a bunch of dead halfling gangsters?
After a few more repairs were made and after Lengara had communed with the elemental bound in the helm to see if it could move the ship faster through the astral sea’s currents, the party retired below. It was time to interrogate their prisoner about the ship they were chasing.
Lengara let his blood boil a bit.
With Tin hanging back, the party pepper Rayniere McWands about his alliance with the Cult of Saerenclaws and motives. McWands claimed to not know why the Cult of Saerenclaws would be interested in the Heart of Io, although noted that it is an immensely powerful artifact. McWands intended to use it to heal the magically malformed body which his spirit currently possessed, the body of the halfling Reggie. McWands said he worked with the Cult of Saerenclaws because he had no choice, the band had killed or scarred off all but a tiny handful of halfling Blackjaw members and left him desperate for allies. Had he known the Saerenclaw cult would steal the Heart for themselves he would have preferred more loyal soldiers.
Rising in stature and volume without trying or moving, Lengara announced a simple fact. “I am going to catch that ship and recover the Heart of Io, and if not nothing will stop me from turning you to ash. If we retrieve the Heart, you will safely release Tin and we will abandon you on this remote plane and you can get back to the natural world if you can.”
The party heard an Oathbreaker crewmember yelling about proximity to the Malarite vessel and headed up to the deck, but McWands despite being blindfolded turned to where Tin was as Tin walked past. “Don’t ever think that I have forgotten what you are responsible for Woodsfellow.” He hissed. “Mark my words, it might not be today but I promise that someday I will destroy you.”
Closing slowly on the rival ship, the Oathbreaker crew sought cover while the adventurers moved to the bow. Drengy took a familiar post atop the crows nest to spot targets and rain arrows down on the same. Feral with Tin’s help began using one of the ship’s energy ballistas to blast the enemy ship’s sails to slow it down. Legara drew his arms to his chest and closed his eyes for just a moment before jumping into the action. Time to go hunting.
Drengy was already firing at the deck of the enemy ship. Apparently invisibility had become less of a liability to him. Something was struck by an arrow and seemed to bleed onto the far deck.
Lengara could feel the thrill rise in him, the power already surging. Somehow everything felt right, felt in sync.
The Oathbreaker’s Captain shouted orders and her sailors fought to bring their ship abreast the Malarite boat. Sails flapped in the strange winds of the Astral Sea as the battle was joined. Feral, rushed onto the deck as Tin took up station with a small barrel and something that looked like a sling in his hand. As the battle began it appeared that Tin had improvised a means of marking the invisible hunters with common flour from the galley. As his improvised missiles struck the deck of the closing ship, the billow of white powder briefly betrayed the location of the hidden Hunters.
But the Hunters were not idle. Their captain was giving orders and firing a Malarite staff weapon into the prow of the Oathbreaker. The blasts struck hard and scorching flames burst upon the deck where Feral, Tin and Lengara stood ready to board the enemy vessel.
As soon as he had a chance, Lengara struck. And the anger he’d been feeling was let loose in a torrent of black rain that fell on the aft deck near the enemy helm. The whisper gave him encouragement and if words could smile, these did.
Low and guttural he spoke words of power, ending with " … and now feel the black rain of Mutuz-Vot". The last syllable uttered made the hairs on Tin and Feral’s necks stand on end, and aboard the enemy ship strange black vapors … or worms … began to writhe up from the puddles that the rain had created. The vapors entered the enemies’ eyes, even those that could not be seen. Those that were not affected still had their sight hampered by the rising “fog”.
“THAT’S NOT USEFUL!” Feral shouted at Lengara. He’d seemed poised to leap the great distance between the ships and now seemed deflated. Lengara glanced him and shrugged. In his anger he simply said, “It will be to ME when I get over there.”
As if on cue, the enemy Huntsmen opened fire, but through the fog and their own blindness none of the shots struck home. Lengara smiled wickedly and then vanished. He reappeared in a small shower of leaves and grass upon the deck of the other ship. However, rather than blinding him, the strange black fog seemed almost to caress him as he arrived. He didn’t appear to have nearly the same problems with it as the others did. Then he transformed into a humanoid ooze and vanished through the fog.
“Bastard.” Feral growled. Glancing at Tin, he realized that Tin seemed to be shrugging and admiring the manner in which Lengara had neutralized the threat of the Malar staves.
“Well, screw this, I’m getting over there if I have to jump all the way to the moon.” He gathered himself in and then erupted like a massive spring. Werewolf? Wererabbit might have been a more apt and likely merger. But the leap got the job done. He crossed over the shrouded area, which was now even more dark as a result of an attack one of the Huntsmen had made against Lengara and which he had escaped through more black smoke and some sort of teleportation effect. Lengara was controlling the battlefield this day and the Huntsmen didn’t appear to know how to deal with it.
“No time like the present.” Tin dropped his flour bombs and made the leap across the now shortened space between ships and landed on a railing and then with near supernatural grace, flipped over the edge and began moving hand over hand along the side of the vessel while hanging suspended over the astral clouds.
Things went south for the Malarites quickly after that. Lengara’s teleportation seemed to tear at the life forces of those nearby and then he teleported the Sarenclaws Captain behind one of her Hunstmen, several of whom were now asleep, thanks to a Sleep Arrow of some sort that Drengy had landed in their midst, and she stabbed down and tried to kill one of her own. Her last strike fell and then she exploded in a flash of light and flame as she herself fell to the eladrin’s illusions.
Lengara was exploiting powers of a terrible and dark nature, but the dark rain faded and the black smoke of his recent escape lifted. Once the path was clear, Tin rushed at one of the remaining sleeping Huntsman. The party’s previous experience with the Hunters meant that when Tin cut the throat of the great beast, he was prepared for the ensuing explosion. Throwing himself back and flat, flipping onto his belly and then off the side of the boat, he was able to avoid the fires completely. He hung there until the explosion was clear, and then scrambled nimbly back onto the deck to help dispatch the last of the Huntsman.
Lengara watched as Feral finished another of the Huntsmen, nearly ripping him in half. But the large wolf-man actually seemed to cringe when Lengara turned to the last of the Huntsmen and with rapid flicks of his wand and sword seemed to cut the big brute a thousand times across his body. Lengara licked his lips and seemed to savor something as the Huntsman fell to his knees and the cuts turned to bright light and fire. The resulting explosion ripped at Feral and the last of the invisible hunters. Lengara was no longer anywhere to be seen.
Feral gritted his teeth and moved to finish the last Malar hunter on the enemy ship, but a new problem existed. One of the Malar huntsman had slipped onto the Oathbreaker deck and was moving to the hold where he could do immense damage to the ship or… The hold where McWands was. The Huntsman was confident his invisibility would let him go undetected, but before he could execute whatever mischief he imagined Drengy leaned over the crow’s nest rail, an arrow already notched. The magic arrow that hit the Huntsman was devastating and explosive, blasting the undead Malarite off of the ship and into the turbulent astral wake. Drengy half smiled while he peppered the spinning helpless Huntman with arrows until the creature exploded in a muffled pop 200 yards behind the moving ship.
A whisper took shape as Lengara rematerialized and the whisper rose to full voice. “There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Lengara glanced about as if half expecting that someone else would have heard. But of course, they hadn’t.
Although the enemy ship had been rammed by the Oathbreaker and nearly scuttled, the crew brought the two ships back under control and lash them together.
Lengara brushed off his hands, his wands and sword put away. He strode toward a hatch which he’d already approached once during the battle. As if already knowing what was within, he knocked on the hatch soundly.
“Bring us the Heart, or we’re coming in there and getting it. Your choice. Knock twice if you understand and surrender.” This time there was no anger, just a bright glee in his voice.
A dozen halfling blackjaw members, each cursing the name Reggie and regretting ever having gotten involved with the Blackjaw gang emerged with their hands up. Drengy covered them with his bow as Feral and Tin searched each halfling to remove weapons or contraband. The first out sheepishly presented the Heart of Io to Lengara. As Legara touched the artifact he could feel heat, immense perhaps undefinable power, and a wave of implanted memories or images of the ancient Dawn War. The sensation to Lengara was simultaneously exhilarating and narcotic. Already fearing for their lives, the Blackjaw members nervously backed away from the ecstatic warlock.
Feral yelled to the Oathbreaker Captain to take the Halflings prisoners on board, provide them with food and water and treat them humanely. Drengy and Lengara supervised the movement of the Blackjaws aboard the Oathbreaker while Feral and Tin, weapons at the ready, headed below decks of the Malarite ship to make sure there were no more stowaways.
Light often diffuses generally in the Astral Plane providing a general glow without shadows, so when the entire space around both ships suddenly dimmed all aboard froze in alarm. Confused, Drengy leaned over the side of the ship to look down and see something that defied his senses. An astral leviathan the size of a small moon, it’s gaping jaw still opening but already large enough to swallow a hundred ships the size of the Oathbreaker was breaching up to devour both ships. The edges of the astronomically large beast’s jaws were already passing when Drengy yelled out his alarm and grabbed hold of the stoutest fixture he could find. With a terrible continuing boom of splintering wood, screaming crewmen, and the low sounding of the leviathan the ships were consumed, swallowed whole and shattered by the tongues and rear teeth of the impossible beast.