The final episode of the first adventure of the Cursed Eight.
The story continues from where it left off in the Adventures of the Cursed Eight 1.9…
I hope you enjoy it. 😉
1.10 The Withering
“Who the f*** is Dafasos Oksymorn?” asked Grell, jumping on to Bane’s back.
The red-skinned tattooed man stared at the half-orc child, an expression of loathing and disgust deforming his thin lips.
“Damakos Onyxborn, you impudent rat. I am the high priest of the Soulless King, the first tendril of His dread shadow! You are too late to stop the ritual! I have-”
“Is someone else bored? I’m bored,” said Grell looking at the others with a huge grin on his face.
“So bored,” answered Shainarra drawing her daggers.
“I’ve been to lectures that were more interesting,” yawned Nala, raising her quarterstaff.
“I mean, he probably gets extra points for the outlandish dress, but all in all, I’d say three out of ten,” said Zal’tat, loading his crossbow.
“You insolent, little peasants! I’ll burn the flesh from your bones!” He turned towards the lone cultist and pointed imperiously towards the party. “Kill them.”
“With great pleasure my lord,” spat the misshapen Halfling, drawing a short sword and advancing eagerly.
“And you, my servant,” Damakos hissed tugging at the dark magic that enveloped the grotesque shape in the far corner, “feast on their flesh!”
A low rattling sound filled the chamber. The thing in the corner shifted and with one violent motion, it ripped away the rough-spun sac that had been covering it.
“Ghoul!” yelled Lohar, thrusting out his amulet of Thelas and letting loose a blast of divine energy.
The creature howled in pain, but advanced nonetheless, its hungry eyes now locked on the cleric.
“You will die here, faithless!” howled Damakos gleefully, as he let fly a stream of flames from the palm of his hand.
The party leapt out of the way, as the jet of molten magic blasted into the floor, almost evaporating Zal’tat on the spot.
“Whew…he’s quite a boring evil mastermind, but he sure knows how to turn up the heat,” murmured the gnome as he sent three bolts of pure magic thudding into the ghoul’s chest.
The undead horror staggered in its wild rush to reach Lohar, but immediately regained its balance. Drool fell from the sides of its mouth and a long red tongue lashed the air in a frenzy.
“My lord! I have one of them!” screeched the Halfling cleric, as it circled Kathra, its sword describing lazy circles in the air.
“I think not,” answered the druid softly, as she brought her staff crashing to the floor.
Magical energy erupted from the point of impact and the unfortunate cultists was catapulted backwards into the cavern wall. He screamed in agony as his face brushed against one of the roots of the Tree of Life; the life force began to drain from his body and the once-young face aged ten years in a matter of seconds. Panicking, he tried to push away.
“Oh no you don’t,” snarled Zal’tat. He levelled the crossbow and let fly a bolt. It found its mark with a thud, piercing muscle and embedding itself in the root beneath.
“No! Please, please!” howled the Halfling piteously, as the years of its life disappeared forever into the eldritch roots. In a minute, the screams had ceased and nothing remained but a mummified corpse.
On the other side of the room, Lohar was fending of the monster’s furious onslaught as best he could. He ducked beneath another deadly swipe; the creature roared in frustration, slashing the empty air.
“Help!” he yelped as he quickly sidestepped, barely avoiding the ghoul’s fangs.
Lohar immediately hit the ground, as two hundred pounds of angry dwarf shot over his head. Before the monster could realize what was happening, Thorin had smashed his battle hammer through its chest, past its ribcage and out its back. With a mighty heave, the soldier ripped the weapon out and with a final downward swing, caught the ghoul’s head between his maul and the wall, squashing it like a grape.
“I’d like to see you try and come back from that,” snorted the dwarf eyeing the puddle of undead remains.
In the meantime, Damakos had retreated behind the altar, casting spells at the remaining members of the company. A bolt of electricity sizzled a few inches from Siloqui, who immediately retaliated by sending an arrow whizzing into the dark priest’s hand. He dropped his wand with a cry. Realizing he was seriously outnumbered, he scuttled quickly to the side of the altar and picking up the geode, began to chant feverishly.
Behind him, a portal started to shimmer into existence.
“Oh no you don’t!” hissed Shainarra, letting fly two daggers. The first slashed through Damakos’ hand, causing him to drop the geode, while the second pinned his cloak to the ground. The portal immediately vanished. The priest tried to tug his cloak free but yelped in shock as blast of frozen air erupted from the dragonborn’s gaping jaws, freezing the dagger in place.
“No! Stay back! I have powers beyond your comprehension…if you spare me I’ll grant you riches! Wealth! Anything!”
Atop his dire wolf, Grell looked down evilly at the squealing priest.
With one bound, the monstrous animal had vaulted over the altar. Its teeth sunk into Damakos’ neck and as the necromancer began to yell, the dire wolf bit deeper shaking the feeble magic-user him like a ragdoll. Soon after, all movement ceased and Bane sat back on his haunches with an air of satisfaction, gnawing on a red-skinned arm.
Lohar was the first to reach the altar. There were only two objects on its rough surface: the black geode and an ornate chalice. He inspected both carefully, conscious of a pair of eyes fixed on the gem-encrusted surface of the vessel.
“I think that this is the missing cup of Gerotil,” he said with a certain measure of authority. “This on the other hand,” he said turning the geode around in his hand, “is something of a mystery to me. I have never seen anything like it…there is something more to it though…”
“I think I shall hang on to these for the moment,” he said, tucking both the chalice and the geode into a satchel that was lying near the altar. He studiously fiddled with the straps, pretending not to notice Shainarra’s glare. “That way we won’t run any risk of losing the Cup before we return it to Father Silin.”
“Suit yourself,” said Zal’tat nonchalantly as he rummaged through the robes of the mummified cleric.
As Grell was going through what remained of Damakos’ pockets, his hand brushed against something smooth. The half-orc’s eyes widened in giddy amazement as he held up a perfect purple crystal. It shone with an inner light and Grell was almost certain he could see something in its depths.
“What do you have there?” asked Thorin, coming up behind him. The child immediately hid the beautiful gem.
“Nothing. None of your business grandpa.”
“Fine, lad. By the Twelve, you are squirrely,” he murmured backing away.
While the others had been looting the chamber for valuables, Kathra had sidled up to the altar. A worried look had replaced her usually calm expression.
“What do you think they were trying to accomplish with this ritual?” she said, turning towards her other companions.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” answered the gnome looking up from a small cupboard he had been inspecting. “The red-skinned guy said he had succeeded…then again, they are all dead, so…”
“Not all of them,” murmured Nala staring at the arm of the red dragonborn.
An uncomfortable silence fell over the group.
“Shall we get going? I’ve had enough of caves and tunnels for one day,” said the thief, “I could really use a pint of ale and a comfortable bed.”
“I second that!” yawned Thorin.
The group left the chamber quickly, spurred on by the promise of rest and alcohol. As they passed through the cavern where they had fought the first group of cultists, Lohar felt something brush past his satchel. He looked around, but seeing nothing he continued forward.
In the shadows, gold and gems glinted for a moment and then vanished.
“There you are! I was beginning to think you were dead!” said Father Silin as they slowly emerged into the Temple of Gerotil. “Did you solve my necromancer problem?”
“The undead will trouble you no longer, Father,” said Thorin moving past the symbol of Gerotil, carved on the top step.
“That’s good to hear, good to hear,” mumbled the elderly gnome appreciatively as the rest of the party climbed the stairs. “And the Chalice?”
“Well, dear brother,” said Lohar as his foot touched the last step, “your worries are over. We have, in fact, recovered the-”
A thunderous roar erupted from all around them. The ground began to shake and the companions staggered to remain upright as loose stones fell from the vaulted ceiling.
“What in Gerotil’s name…?” gasped Silin, clutching a column as the whole Temple rocked back and forth.
As quickly as it had started, the quake ceased.
“What was that?” asked Kathra, staring upwards.
“I…I’m not sure, child,” mumbled the elderly gnome.
“Uh, guys?” said Grell, pointing at the dais, “Did the Tree look like that when we went into the crypt?”
A horrified gasp cut the silence, followed by a dull thud as Father Silin fell to the ground, unconscious.
“Well, shit,” said Shainarra.
The Tree of Life was bare. Its leaves littered the floor, devoid of divine light. The trunk was shrivelled and bent and a dark crack had slit it down the middle, revealing a rotten core. As the party stared at the remains of the Tree, a cold wind swept through the Temple, extinguishing the few candles that had been lit in the alcoves.
“Why do I get the feeling that somehow we are going to get blamed for this?” murmured Zal’tat.
Grell however was no longer paying attention. He’d lost interest in the Tree and was now peering into his bag, where the purple crystal had begun to pulse with a warm light. Hesitantly, the half-orc reached into his pack.-
The Cursed Eight will return in the Prisoner of the Blackheart Gem…