Keys of Binding, Part Five - Invictus Infernus

Sophia eyed her former bodyguard nervously. “Did you overcome the axe?” she asked.

“Yes,” replied the big warrior, the feeling beginning to return to his legs.

Storm walked over to the Dragonknight, reached out his scaled hand, and touched the haft of the Bloodaxe. He sensed the remoteness of its voice, but could still hear it chuntering away about death and destruction. “Remember what I said about imprisoning you again. We may destroy you completely.” The voice went quiet, and Storm smiled.

With the group shrugging off the last effects of the Basilisk’s gaze, Storm looked around. “Let’s keep exploring,” he said.

Roarc looked at Tector, eyeing the Bloodaxe strapped to his back. “How are you feeling?” asked the dark elf.

“I’m ok,” replied the big man. “I think Storm’s threat will be enough to keep the axe quiet now.”

Roarc looked sceptical, and turned to Sophia. “Are you comfortable with this, my Lady,” he asked. She nodded, but the sithe prince sensed her hesitation. “Are you not worried that Tector might lose control again?” he asked.

“A little,” she replied.

“I threatened it again,” said Storm. “I don’t think it will give us any more trouble.”

“I still think you should destroy it,” said Roarc, standing his ground. “That axe is too dangerous.”

“It comes in very handy in battle against powerful foes,” replied Storm.

“That may be so,” answered Roarc. “But that means little if he butchers us all afterwards. I’ll be leaving you if he loses control again.”

Tector stepped in. “Storm and Sophia could combine their powers and drive the spirit from the axe,” he speculated.

“That might remove the enchantment as well,” cautioned Storm.

“I’m willing to take that chance,” replied the Dragonknight.

Storm repeated his concern about the possible impact on the enchantment of the weapon. “I think it should be Tector’s decision, don’t you?” asked Roarc.

“Very well,” said Storm. “When we are fully rested, and in a safe place, we will risk it.”

Tector nodded. “It does not affect me unless I wield it.”

“So we are agreed?” asked Roarc. “You will not wield that axe again until we have forced out the spirit of Eric Bloodaxe?”

“Yes,” confirmed Tector.

With that settled, Storm turned to the huge head of the basilisk. It lay, ruined and motionless, in a pool of ichor. Mindful of the effect of its gaze, Storm studied its eyes. One had been pierced by an arrow and largely destroyed, but despite the massive damage wrought on the snake by the Bloodaxe, the other remained intact.

Moving forward, Storm took his dagger and carefully cut the eyeball from the great snake. Holding it in his hand, he sensed powerful residual transmutation magic, and determined that he might be able to tap into this if he were able to incorporate the basilisk eye into an item. Pleased by his discovery, Storm wrapped the eye in cloth and placed it in his backpack. Meanwhile, Tector removed a few of the basilisk’s teeth from its head, taking a dagger-length fang for each member of the group.

Having butchered the great snake, the companions resolved to continue exploring its lair. They encountered a ghoul stalker and a choker as they wandered the corridors, but made short work of each, the ghoul falling to one of Sophia’s arrows from range, while Tector decapitated the choker before it landed a blow.

Moving on, they came across another petrified figure, this time a hunchbacked human with a club foot. Tector immediately surmised that this must be one of the Twisted, part of the group that aided them in the Catacombs months before.

Storm was in the process of searching the figure for useful items when he suddenly stiffened, his eyes widening. “We need to get out of here!” he said urgently.

“Why?” asked Roarc. “What is it?”

“Something has just arrived in the Catacombs, I can feel it. Something of great power. Not undead, but never living. Something with incredible deathly power. And it is moving towards us!”

Sophia nodded. “Yes, I feel it too!”

Tector looked around, anxiously. “We can’t get out! The forcefield!”

The companions had a brief but urgent exchange of views and resolved that their only choice was to head back the way they had come. They ran through the maze-like passageways of the basilisk’s lair, Storm’s map and Sophia’s rope allowing them to easily retrace their steps.

Arriving at the entrance, they saw the opaque forcefield still blocking their only exit. Storm pushed on it but to no effect – it remained as solid as stone!

As her companions racked their brains for a way out, Sophia drew upon her last reserves of power and attempted to dispel the forcefield. This failed, much to their dismay, and a squabble broke out as they desperately cast around for a plan.

Roarc interrupted forcefully. “Cut the chatter! This is life or death. What are we goin’ te do?”

Storm faced the barrier. “Open please,” he asked, but the opaque wall still blocked their way. Tector tried to smash through, but without success.

Frantically brainstorming for a solution, Storm suddenly hit upon an idea and removed the Iron Key of Binding from his belt. Placing the square head against the wall of force, he channelled his sorcerous power, activating the key’s enchantment and willing it to dispel the barrier. To their amazement and relief, the dragonborn’s idea worked, and they rushed through the opening.

Hurrying along the stone passageway, Storm concentrated on the power of the Solstice Stone in his chest, trying to use its link with the Summoning Stone to send a message to Myrddin. “We are in the Catacombs, being followed by a powerful death being. We are heading to the aqueducts room, please get us out of here!”

They ran onward, heading south and taking the most direct route toward their destination. As they reached the crossroads where they had fought Lahm Bas, they saw a faint, flickering green glow ahead. A figure moved toward them, a humanoid construct radiating a sickening aura. It appeared to be clad in mithril and adamantite full plate, and moved with a heavy, lumbering gait. Its eye sockets, and the joints in its armour, pulsed and sparked with unholy greenish-black energy. It carried a large melee weapon resembling a cross between a double ended greataxe and a double ended spear, and advanced inexorably toward the companions.

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Skidding to a halt, Sophia nocked an arrow and fired in a single fluid motion, invoking the piercing power of Dienwe’s bow. The arrow flew home, punching clean through the breastplate of the construct and leaving a hole, from which a shimmering metallic liquid flowed. [Crit for 36 damage!] The Lady was amazed to see that the construct did not flinch and marched inexorably forward.

With one hand, Storm called up the north wind, lifting Tector into charging range of the construct. With the other, he launched a thunderbolt which glanced off the wall to the right of his target, blasting shards from the stone. Roarc nocked a blue-fletched arrow which transformed into a lightning bolt and flew home, wreathing their advancing nemesis in electricity for a moment.

Tector activated his Brooch of Mithras, feeling the surge of adrenaline rush through him, before uttering a prayer. “Lord, help me fight this twisted construct!” The blade of his greataxe glowed with holy light and he charged forward, unleashing an extraordinary overhead blow that severed the right arm of the construct clean off! [Crit for 84 damage!!]

The mithril and adamantite arm clanged on the stone floor, a quicksilver puddle forming around it as the fluid within leaked out. As he fought the sickening effects of being in close proximity to a paragon of death, Tector noticed that more of the stuff was slowly flowing from the open shoulder of the armour, but instead of falling to the floor it seemed to be forming rapidly into a replacement arm of shimmering quicksilver! Unfortunately the Dragonknight’s huge blow left him overextended, and the construct took full advantage, plunging the blade of its weapon through his armour and into his chest.
[Fumbled dodge roll for 40 damage!]

Sophia moved forward, thinking that her friend would need her healing very soon, and put another arrow into the construct. Tector gasped a prayer, filling the corridor with golden light that healed him and his companions but seemed to burn the construct. It took a backward step for the first time, shielding its eyes with its new quicksilver arm. Tector pressed the advantage, another huge blow smashing off its breastplate and revealing the quicksilver body beneath.

Storm moved alongside his friend, suffering similar ill effects from the construct’s deathly aura, but unleashing his dragon breath in return. The cone of icy air froze the remaining armour and left frost on the quicksilver torso. Roarc then charged into the fray, his fine blade glimmering with white light. With a huge overhead swing he cleaved right through the construct’s helm. Both the helm and the frozen armour cracked apart and crashed to the floor, revealing a lithe body of molten quicksilver beneath.

As its deathly aura began to suck the life from Roarc as well, the construct retaliated with blinding speed, slashing at Tector with a series of whirling attacks. The first cut deep into his arm, and as the second bit into his leg he activated the Ring of Reflexes he had taken from Kazimir months before, managing to turn his leg away and avoid the worst of the blow. Nevertheless, the big warrior swayed, close to collapse from pain and blood loss. Sophia reached out from behind, channelling healing power into him, and restoring some of his vigour.

Tector responded by summoning the chill power of his armour to wreathe his blade, before slamming it into his foe, leaving a deep impression in the construct’s arm. As a lightning orb from Storm passed harmlessly over the construct’s head, Roarc attacked again, cutting into it and splashing molten silver onto the flagstone floor.

Tector and Storm in particular were feeling the terrible effects of the construct’s deathly aura, and it pressed the advantage, continuing to hammer at Tector’s defences with a rain of blows. Incredibly, his guard was good and he was able to fend off the whirlwind of attacks. [20 on the parry roll!]

Seeing an arrow from Sophia fly wide, and feeling his strength failing once again, Tector hatched a desperate plan and channelled healing power into his hand before lunging forward and pushing it into the construct’s face! It flinched backward, but not quickly enough, and the light seemed to burn the quicksilver surface, its face blackening and melting before Tector’s eyes.

Storm struck with a lightning orb that blasted some of the construct’s shoulder away, and Roarc cut deep into its side with another blow of his sword. Sophia and Storm had backed away to attack from range, but the two warriors remained toe to toe with the construct and continued to feel their life leeching away. Its relentless assault on Tector continued, but so did his exceptional defence, and to his relief the badly wounded warrior continued to block each and every blow. The construct was equally fast though, and whether it was due to its speed or the increasing desperation of their attacks, it was able to dodge or avoid everything that Sophia, Storm and Roarc could throw at it.

Feeling that he had little left, Tector tried to end the fight by trying to plunge his hand into the construct’s chest and rip out the glowing green gem that pulsed there. Unfortunately for the Dragonknight, this seemed to have little effect on the construct. On the other hand, its unholy aura sucked more life from him and he collapsed to the flagstone floor, barely conscious and unable to move.

Roarc was also suffering terribly from his continued proximity to the construct, and was weakening fast. With the Dragonknight down, their foe turned its attention to the dark elf, slashing deep into his right leg. As the leg gave way, the dark elf fell to one knee, and the construct reversed its blow, stabbing Roarc in the chest with the other end of its weapon. He keeled over, coughing blood onto the flagstone floor and gasping for breath.

Thinking with remarkable clarity given the dire situation, Storm conjured a wall of ice between the construct and his fallen companions. It took great skill to position it in just the right place, but Storm’s many hours of practice paid off. The construct slashed at the wall as it formed rapidly in front of it, sending shards of ice flying in all directions. This did not prevent Storm’s chill sorcery walling off the passageway in seconds, but they could see and hear the construct continuing to smash away at the ice, and knew it was only a matter of time before it broke through.

The dragonborn pulled out the pouch of blueberries he had found on the petrified elf. With his fallen companions barely conscious, he quickly mashed up the fruit in his taloned hands and fed a little to each of them, washing it down with water. In a few seconds, both Tector and Roarc had regained sufficient vitality to get to their feet. With Storm leading the way, they set off along the passageway, away from their attacker. Blood dripped onto the floor from Roarc’s injured leg as he limped along, pursued by the sound of the construct smashing its way inexorably though the ice.

Keys of Binding, Part Five - Invictus Infernus

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