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Tag: epic_tier_reached

Fortress of Bones Part 8: The Fall of Slither
Battle was joined, and Gurthmore and Stonedarr charged headlong at the Skull and his demonic servants, axes at the ready. Arshaka, Chuka-Tet, Khossus, and Jin followed, and the lich and the two snake demons, or mariliths, were soon surrounded. Only Sark remained back, using his witchcraft to hex Yarnath and his servants. Khossus and Gurthmore soon had Yarnath cornered near his throne, while Jin, Chuka-Tet, and Rokkon battled the two demons. Rokkon's twin axes dismembered and decapitated one marilith even as he deftly avoided and parried its lightning-fast blades. The other moved around the throne room, slashing away, though Arshaka's protective wards turned many of its blows aside.

But Yarnath was not so easily defeated. He blasted the heroes with dark flames that withered and burned, jagged purple lightning that rotted the flesh, and howling blasts of cold with spectral claws that tore exposed flesh. His very touch sapped the life-essence of his enemies, and he vanished and reappeared like a shadow. But Khossus's blade, infused with the power of the Crown of the Sun, blinded the lich and sent him reeling even as Gurthmore's axe bit into iron-hard flesh and cracked adamantine bone. “You fools! You cannot defeat me! These are not my only servants!” Yarnath remained defiant even as the second demon fell to Jin and Arshaka's blades.

A shadow had crept down the spiral stairs leading to the top of Yarnath's tower, a shadow that swelled to titanic size in the chamber below. It reached out and attacked the heroes, its chilling touch freezing flesh and weakening them. Its very presence drained their resolve and spread a chill through their bones. But the heroes did not relent. Khossus's blade was glowing with radiant flame, and every blow made the shadow titan somehow more solid, more real – real enough for Jin's icy blade to bite deep. It was a fearsome foe however, and Khossus was enveloped in shadow, swallowed by the void of the shadow titan. He clawed his way out of the darkness, chilled and pale but alive.

Arshaka hurled taunts at the lich, his words compelling the undead wizard to hurl vile epithets back as he took an involuntary step forward, leaving himself open for Gurthmore and Rokkon to slash away with their axes. Chuka-Tet and his scorpion engaged both, his primal magics striking blow after blow at both foes, to seemingly little effect. Sark blasted both with his own shadows and frost, lightning and hexes of woe. But he had saved his most powerful spell for this combat, and unleashed it to startling effect. The lich and the shadow titan were both transformed into tiny desert lizards, one coal-black and one skeletal, and for a moment they were rendered helpless. Arshaka and Chuka-Tet rallied the others, using their restorative magics to flood them with strength and vigor. “Now is the time,” Arshaka shouted triumphantly, “to end the Skull once and for all!” But the shadow titan swelled and resumed its form even as a blow from Khossus broke the spell on Yarnath. His tiny skeletal form twisted and grew, and with a howl of indignant outrage, he blasted Sark with dark lightning and laid the savage witch low. The distraction was all Rokkon and Gurthmore needed. The half-giant buried his axes in Yarnath's sternum, staggering him and driving him to his knees even as Gurthmore buried his execution axe in the lich's spine.

“You think you have won,” Yarnath sputtered, “but this is not over...unmarked one! You will join the rest of your people in my dungeons and share their fate. This body is a shell, a shell that will be restored. For Slither and I are one, and as long as it lives, I live!” With that, the mul barbarian took his head. Sticking the skull on his axe, he grunted contemptuously at the fallen wizard. “Not if we can help it!”

But Rokkon was already looking around. “We must find the rest of my people! They are here! We must save them!” Sark had been roused by Chuka-Tet's magic, and saw that his companions were hurt badly. Burns and necrotic wounds, cuts and bruises – all were greatly injured and fatigued. And the Crawling Citadel was still moving.

“Our strength may not be enough,” the witch said. “And this monstrosity flees to the desert. We may not have time. We must make time. It is time to use the woman-of-light's gift.” All stood in agreement, and for a moment they felt a warm, comforting breeze and an inner glow suffused them all. Their wounds were gone in an instant, their limbs flooded with strength. A small, gold butterfly glowing with its own light drifted across their vision and they all...changed. Sark could see veins of light beneath his gray skin, Stonedarr felt as strong and immobile as the mountains themselves, and Chuka-Tet felt a connection to the very world beneath him growing with every step. Arshaka could see the living history of what he was, what he had seen, and what the world had been opening up in his mind, while Khossus and Gurthmore stood tall and proud, one the epitome of a civilized king, the other the very embodiment of the savage warrior. Jin...vanished. And reappeared. His garb had changed, his features had grown finer and more like the fey of old, and he stood with serenity and purpose. “It has been a long time,” he said. “Or perhaps a few moments. I have had much time to think. And I know that now is the time to end this. We should destroy the foul heart of this place first, then free all who we can.”

The heroes were in agreement. Only Khossus remained. “We need a way out. I will carve one!” He smiled and ran down the stairs to hack a path off the Crawling Citadel. Sark moved over to the arcane circle scribed on the tower floor, and in his minds' eye he saw two empty towers that served as barracks, a tower with some sort of lab and a cage of bones holding several emaciated half-giants, and a furnace of some sort manned by charred corpses and ash-skinned giants with horns. “I can take us there,” he said confidently, and as one the heroes stepped into the circle and vanished.

They reappeared in a chamber suffused with a red glow that was brilliant and pulsated like the heartbeat of a living thing. They saw a massive machine dominating the center of the circular chamber that appeared to be a furnace of brass, obsidian, and petrified bone set with strange crystals. It looked to have been grown rather than constructed. A half a dozen charred corpses with leathery skin stoked the engine with a variety of strange controls, and they were overseen by a pair of ashen-skinned giants with horns and fiery eyes. A collection of blackened bones rose from the floor atop a column of flames. They said nothing, but all turned to attack.

But the heroes were faster. Despite the punishing heat and the fiery fists of the cinder zombies, they battered the corpses aside and Sark transformed them all into ashy lizards for a moment. Rokkon, Jin, and Gurthmore charged forward to engage the ashen giants and the column of flame and bones. Arshaka realized the giants were efreets, creatures of the elemental chaos, but now undead and drained of their sustaining fire. They unleashed searing ash, chilling flames, and powerful blows even as the demonic creature of bones and fire raked at all that came near with fiery claws, but to no avail. The heroes were too strong, and the last fell. Chuka-Tet freed some captive elementals from a cage of bones inscribed with strangle glyphs at the far end of the chamber, but he could not rescue one already being consumed by the furnace at the chamber's center. “Monstrous,” he clicked, “they burn living elementals to power this walking death. They shall no more!” He brought his staff down like a thunderbolt and the fiery heart of Slither cracked under the blow. The heroes rushed to the teleportation circle and vanished, and they could feel the whole fortress shake as they reappeared elsewhere. The engines of Slither had exploded, and the Crawling Citadel was wounded, if not destroyed.

They appeared in a dimly-lit chamber on the upper level of one tower. Rokkon could see several emaciated half-giants crammed into a cell of fused bone to one side of the large chamber, a small room to the other, and a cage of bones suspended over a pit at the far end. A lean figure in robes with dark, scaly skin, small horns, and eyes like burning coals stepped out of the chamber and pointed a crooked staff at them.

“Invaders here? You fools will suffer for daring to interfere with the master's plans!” He gestured and three tall emaciated figures that appeared to have once been half-giants emerged from the shadows. As that happened, a greasy cloud of black smoke boiled in the air and a huge figure that was an unwholesome combination of a boar and an ape stepped forth, a jagged pole-arm clutched in one massive claw. “Tear them apart, but save some pieces for...experimentation.” Rokkon roared with fury and charged the huge demon, his axes slicing into the nalfeshnee's unearthly flesh before it could react. Gurthmore followed and his axe blow knocked the demon back and off its feet. It rose and let out a screeching grunt of anger, unleashing dark lightning, a pair of powerful backhands, and a burst of sickening radiance that staggered both heroes. Sark, Chuka-Tet and Arshaka had engaged the cursed half-giants, while Jin vanished and reappeared next to the demonic thaumaturge. The cambion wizard had blasted them with necrotic fire and sickening rays like freezing lightning that left burning, poisonous wounds. But Jin spoke a single word, and the cambion's will vanished, replaced by the pale warlock's words. He threw his staff into the pit below, and in a fit of inspiration Arshaka made him dance into the hole after it. Jin had him toss the staff up even as the demon fell to the half-giant's axes. The rest had cornered the undead half-giants, and soon cut them down mercifully, laying them to their final rest. Compelled by Jin's enchantment, the vile cambion answered what queries the heroes had, before the pale warlock ordered him to sleep...and then ensured that slumber was eternal with a swift jab of his icy blade.

“I was wrong about you,” said Skkarn, the chief of Rokkon's tribe, in a haggard voice as the arcane locks holding the cell of bones shut was undone and the half-giant ranger freed what remained of his people from their captivity. “You are not weak, son of Granikkus. Nor was my son's death your fault. You are the unmarked stone, unmoving in the path of the sandstorm. Despite his pride, he was but the wind. You have freed us.”

“No,” Rokkon replied. “I was weak. Now I have become strong.” With that, he carried the old chief and his people out of Slither, into the light. The great fortress had begun to shake. Rokkon and the rest of the heroes could see that the tide of battle had turned. The Crawling Citadel lurched beneath them as it slowly turned towards the wastes, driven by the unnatural force of the lich's will. Yarnath's raiders let out a collective howl of despair as their morale broke, and the defenders of Tyr rallied. All who wore the snake-skull tattoo began to flee into the desert.

Ushas could be seen atop the walls of Tyr. She raised her arms, and her voice rang out like a peal of thunder over the din of battle. “Enough!” She said with finality. “This evil will crawl the land no more!” The sorceress began to glow with an inner light and transformed. Her arms lengthened and extended becoming wings like those of a giant butterfly, while her features became smooth, elongated, and alien. She rose into the air and her voice could be heard by all within sight. “A new sun will rise! Its light will wash away all such filth as this! The Skull is no more!” The Crawling Citadel shook beneath them, and as the heroes ran to leap from the edge a powerful wind rose and carried them all to safety. The radiance streaming from the Child of Light swelled until it consumed all of Slither. The bones of the citadel charred and splintered and were torn apart by a whirlwind that could consume the entirety of Tyr. With a monstrous roar, the light and wind subsided as the remnants of Yarnath's citadel were swept out into the desert. Slither was no more. A ragged cheer erupted from the walls, growing in strength until it echoed across the Tablelands – Tyr had been saved!

In the wake of the battle, the heroes aided Tyr's soldiers in hunting down the raiders that escaped. Many surrendered upon seeing Gurthmore, the lich's skull still impaled on the spike of his iron axe, and swore to follow the mul barbarian through the gates of the Abyss rather than risk his wrath. Stonedarr saw to his people, ensuring they would be safe in the mountains to the north of Tyr. Arshaka contemplated the visions he had seen, and began to understand that his role in events to come was far greater than he had imagined. Sark sought the tutelage of Ushas, and began to unlock the radiant power that now burned in his veins. His magic no longer stripped the land of its life, but instead replenished it even as he began to transform. Jin was there and not there, as if he had stepped between worlds. And Khossus and Ushas opted to head west, back to the Valley of Shemmeth. “It needs a leader, one who will protect them from the sorcerer-kings!” After a few days enjoying the hospitality of King Tithian – and being warned by Sadira and the other champions of Tyr that the king kept his friends close but his enemies closer – the heroes opted to leave Tyr. The lady of House Haxtes still lived. They would have to change that...
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Epic × 2!