Curse of the Crimson Throne

Summary 21: Upon the Bridge of Death

Chapter Four: A History of Ashes

 
The test was complete, with Rudolph and Panian both now members of the Sun Clan. The shaman said he would go upon a vision quest to find the information that the Mercenaries sought. Before leaving however, he insisted the two men choose a new family name for themselves, as their past families no longer existed in the tribe's eyes. After thinking it over, they both gave their answers. And so, Irontongs the Legend Scribbler, entered into the history books the names of Flame Rudolph Stonehaven, and Flame Panian Kills-What-He-Sees. This last name brought a bow of respect from Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills. 

Both men were shown their own tents, while Jansaadi and Duvafoodle were all but ignored as they were still considered outsiders. Throughout rest of the day the new flamebrothers trained with their new tribe. For the most part they showed off their skill with the bastard sword and great axe. Most of the men seemed interested in Panian's bladesmanship as his skill matched closer to their own with their mauls. However some of the younger men, whose arms were still many years away from being able to lift such a weapon, trained with Rudolph and his much lighter sword. All the while, several women looked on, often times pointed to either one or the other of the two Mercenaries, with a particular interest in Rudolph and how great he was with the young ones; almost like a father.

That night, Jansaadi asked Panian if she could sleep in his tent. No sooner had she settled in then another shadow appeared outside the tent. As the woman revealed herself, Panian's eyes lit up as this was a woman whose beauty outshined all orcish wenches. Jansaadi was kicked out. And the night was spent in bliss by Panian, and Tuli Sleeps-With-What-She-Sees. The ranger contented herself with sleeping in the sand, while Duvafoodle slept in the air on his personal carpet of flying. On the other side of the tribe, Rudolph had a pleasant night, though one which found him no sleep. Ashanti Flowerpetal, Mertania Gentle-Oasis, and Lisalia Goddess-Eyes were the crusaders guests for the eve. And he accepted with open arms.

The next morning, screams erupted all over the tribe.

Almost all the Mercenaries erupted from their slumber to see what the trouble was. The tribe was being attached by strange winged beast that looked as though they were living stone: gargoyles. With no movement from Rudolph's tent, Panian screamed at his flamebrother to rise as blood would soon flow. The booming voice echoed in the crusaders sleep-deprived brain and finally emerged from his tent, sword in hand, to see the carnage all around him. Arrows flew left and right as gargoyles and flamebrothers exchanged fire. At times, one of the winged menaces would swoop down, pick up a writhing tribesman and then send him plummeting to smash into the unforgiving sand.

One gargoyle was coughing after Duvafoodle had poisoned it with a stinking cloud. The gnome however was clutching at a pair of arrows in his arm, as it seemed he posed a nice target for the flying enemies. Another gargoyle was wounded after receiving three javelins in its chest from Panian. As Rudolph looked on, he saw Jansaadi kill the one her barbarian friend had wounded, and then send another three arrows into a second flying menace, bringing it onto the brink of death. Rudolph charged into the fray, charging his sword with energy and bringing death to a gargoyle. Duvafoodle sent a lightening bolt through his rod of wonder, destroying another one. The last threat was then quickly neutralized by four arrows from Jansaadi.

The battle was not over, far from it in fact. From the shadows, red mantis assassins emerged, ending the lives of half a dozen men in the first few seconds. Krojun, himself with four gargoyle corpses around him, found himself being assaulted by three of the red menaces. The Mercenaries found themselves faced with two of them, as well as another four gargoyles. Now it was time for vengeance as the last meeting with the assassins had seen Panian decapitated. With the memory gone, but the insult still present, Panian charged in. The mantis put his sword up to deflect the blow, but the down-swinging axe was simply to powerful and it cut the sabre in two, and then continued down, slicing the assassin from head through groin. The body fell apart in two pieces; a morbid warning for all the enemies around.

Duvafoodle, wanting to help his friends against any incoming arrows, created a cloud of darkness, similar to the one hovering over the town of Riddleport. Despite the haze, arrows still managed to find Panian’s flesh. So much time in battle had hardened his skin to the point where such bards only barely pierced the surface. As an added bonus, there was not a mosquito in the world that would drain his blood.

Jansaadi fired off a volley, downing a gargoyle. Rudolph meanwhile summoned a divine surge and with a single slice, dropped the other mantis dead to the sand. Duvafoodle then fired off a fireball to wound one gargoyle. With such magic, it seemed the enemy believed the true threat was the warlock, and the survivors peppered poor Duvafoodle with nine arrows. It hurt, but it was not quite enough to drop the gnome. Seeing her friend in pain, Jansaadi aimed true and dropped two of the gargoyles. There remained only one, and after a lightening bolt from Duvafoodle, it decided it had had enough and flew back to its roost.

As the dust began to settle, the Mercenaries spotted a human with a repeating crossbow picking off people left and right. This was the Cinnderlander, slayer of the shoanti for generations. In his youth, he had seen his family brutally murdered by a tribe of the shoanti after they had started a farm on land that they had not known to be sacred. The Cinnderlander's family had been given no quarter, only death. From that day on, the boy had sworn we would get even, and his revenge had taken a life time. Now as a hired mercenary for the red mantis, he continued his life's work. And suddenly paid for it as four arrows from Jansaadi's bow planted themselves in his back, right through his chest. Turning, he saw first Rudolph, a human shoanti by all appearances and shot the crusader with three bolts, each one bringing sting pain as though, upon striking, the barbs twisted themselves further into flesh. From afar, Duvafoodle sent a minor hold person spell the Cinnderlander's way, and was quite satisfied to see the man's body go rigid in the thralls of the magic. That made him an easy target as Jansaadi sent three arrows flying. One plunging into the humans head, while the other two each pierced the Cinderlander's eye balls, ensuring that his soul would never go onto the afterlife like the rest of his victims.

From not too far off, a female voice called out to the Mercenaries of Korvosa. The four looked on at the face of Cinnabar, one of the generals of the Red Mantis. She had several of her followers around her, while at the end of her sabre, knelt Neolandus. She commanded MoK to drop their weapons, while the former advisor also pleaded for the same as he did not want to die again. There would be no surrendering today however. Both Rudolph and Panian began walking forward, much to the fearful gaze of Neolandus. He shut his eyes for the inevitable blade thrust that would follow; and follow it did.

One mantis member would never need to worry about an appendicitis as Rudolph’s blade cut it and a piece of his liver out with a single slice. Panian meanwhile slashed at the same one, sending more blood to blanket the sand. Cinnabar cloaked herself in invisibility and moved to a more strategic position. With his warlock sight, Duvafoodle followed all of her movements, warning his friends of her exact position.

A mantis member attempted to tumble into a flanking position, but Rudolph's defensive stance blocked the assassin's progress and opened up a great opening for a quick strike that both crusader and barbarian capitalized on. Still standing, he and his ally aimed at Rudolph's vital organs, bringing a lot of pain to the man. Jansaadi, her hatred for humans burning inside, sent four arrows flying, and killing two of the mantis’. From afar, Duvafoodle blasted Rudolph with soothing healing energy. Another mantis took a hit from Rudolph, and Panian cleaved the same ones head in, and followed it up with a second strike on the fourth mantis, killing him too.

All that remained was Cinnabar, who couldn’t believe that, in the time it took her to move only a few feet, her entire entourage had been slain. Yet she had confidence in her skill. That was until she was hit by a fireball spell from behind that she had not at all been prepared for. With her burning leathers falling in tatters around her, she simply could not defend against a charging Rudolph, whose bastard sword easily slid through her own defence and into her heart.

The battle was finally over.

Of the seventy clan members, fourteen had met their end. It would have been much more had the Mercenaries not been there. Had the Mercenaries not been there however, then no assault at all would have even taken place. This fact however did not occur to anyone in the tribe. The Fire Clan had been attacked as a family, and so they sung their victory as a family. Krojun began setting a fire to cook the seven he had slain.

Soon the Fire Shaman returned. He was surprised of the chaos that had arisen in his absence, but was pleased at how his tribe had fended off the invaders. He then looked to the Mercenaries, and recounted what the spirits had told him

After the story, Rudolph summoned Zellara to recount all that had happened. After performing a harrow reading for everyone, she sang a strange song: 

Fate of steel-Iomedae's Hand

Her cage for years sustained

Four enthralled in lost Scarwall;

Undead to keep her chained.

A spirit first, red war his thirst

Still stands at post of old;

A second foe, infernal soul

Waits high in tower cold.

In kennel's grime third bides his time

Then vents his killing breath.

And on a stone 'mid ash and bone,

The final dreams of death.

The spirits worn and battletorn

And locked in their damnation,

The chained one's hold at last grows old

And ushers in salvation.

Yet hope remains amid the chains

When blade's stone cage has crumbled,

Friends to dread and the death of the dead,

Keys to Kazavon humbled

After the song, the Sun Shaman gave the Mercenaries war paint that would protect against the draining effects of undead, as such creatures would likely be encountered in the unholy castle. Rudolph feared for Zellara's safety and so handed over the magical harrow deck to his new chief.

After a few days of marching, the four arrived at the haunted castle of Scarwall. Their first impression was that they had already seen the place; it had been painted by Salvatore Scream. How he had seen the place was a mystery for later. The place was surrounded by a fog that seemed to mask unseen menaces that they knew were there. Jansaadi swore she saw several gargoyles flying around, and even a great dragon. That fact took off the table of any aerial assault. They thus approached an old guard post that was the way to the open drawbridge.

Their approach went noticed as, exiting the barbican came the Deathwatchers, a clan of seven orcs that were the eternal guardians of Scarwalls entrance. Their leader Ury Sevenskulls cried out a challenge to those who would invade their sacred place, and the Mercenaries were more than happy to answer in kind.

As they approached, they were assailed with a volley of arrows as the orcs let fly their soaring death. Both Panian and Rudolph took several glancing hits. Two more of their number charged in and slashed their axes, with each getting in another glancing blow. Duvafoodle, who had decided to badmouth the clan before the initial assault, was faced off against Ury himself. The greatsword easily cut through robes and there was an aftershock of frigid frost. To wounded to cast a spell, not that he would have dreamed of doing so anyway, he blasted the chief with his rod of wonder, using the fatemasters claw to coax something special. And something special did happen as he successfully blinded Ury, effectively taking him out of the fight. That came true a moment later when Panian invoked the berserker rage and cut off Ury's legs, waist, and then head with three brutal chops. Then with a last backhand chop, he severed a second orcs spine.

Jansaadi shot down another orc with ease, while Rudolph called to his god and sent divine wrath into the one he was facing. It stood its ground and swung its axe. Somehow it found an unprotected seem in the crusaders armor as the axe blade bit in hard and very deep. In retribution, Panian killed the one who nearly brought down his best friend.

There remained only three, and they took a fireball from Duvafoodle's wand. Jansaadi sent two arrows into one of them, but still it stood its ground as all three peppered the Mercenaries with stinging arrows. Rudolph, in his weakened state, wasn't able to get his sword up to deflect and he took two barbs in the collarbone. Barely standing, he summoned strength from his inner warrior soul and charged in, impaling one of the orcs. Panian then charged in, and with a pair of unforgiving axe slashes, brought death to the remaining threats. As the dust cleared, the Mercenaries visibly saw the souls of the Deathwatchers rise, and then become sucked into nearby walls of Castle Scarwall. It was truly a good thing that Zellara was not present.

After a few healing blasting, the four marched upon the bridge. As they did so, the gate of the castle opened, and out stepped over a dozen skeletons, led by Sergeant Lashton, a skeletal warrior riding upon a skeletal nightmare. Despite the numbers, they were all but strands of wheat come to be cut down. The fight was a trivial one as soon enough, bones littered the drawbridge. Barely scathed, MoK entered through the huge gates into the castle itself, where they were immediately assaulted by huge crossbow bolts fired from unseen murder holes…

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