[The story so far]
Session 20 - Is it the end of the world, or just the end of the adventure?
Those still fit to fight (Dumnorix, Aurelius, Oiseau, Montagne, Tybalt, Jean, and about a dozen watchmen) checked their weapons and armour, shared out the remaining handful of Black Jacques Specials [in effect, Molotovs] and headed for the great Temple of Alathea that formed the heart of the great and ancient city of Corcelle. The remaining Vespertine Guards had fled into the dark but it seemed likely some would be heading in that direction. The streets were dark and quiet. Any citizens who heard the disturbance had bolted their doors and shutters, all the panic of the Temple's desecration flooding back. The party and the dwindling watch were on their own.
As they approached the Temple, it too was in darkness save for an unearthly flame billowing up into the night sky from where the Flame of Alathea normally burned. Aurelius, having been told about the success of the flanking ambush on the Vespertines, wanted to carry out an ambush of his own and lead three of the Watch around to the West side of the Temple while the others advanced carefully on the Northern edge. Only Tybalt hung back; two near death experiences in twelve hours had taken their toll, with strands of hair falling out whenever he pushed his fringe back.
The main party spread out into a line as they carefully stalked their way through the densely pillared portico towards the central plaza in which the unnatural flame burned. Oiseau's ears popped and he swallowed heavily trying to sort them out, while Dumnorix felt dizzy. "It's coming from that flame," muttered the cleric of Alathea. "What devilry are they committing?"
They paused uneasily on the edge of the portico, trying to make out what they faced. The whole plaza was fitfully illuminated by the purplish-blue flame, in some places glinting off helmets and speartips of the remaining Vespertines, but the light wasn't constant or reliable. What couldn't be missed, however, was the guttural chanting that came from the eight robed figures standing in a ritual circle around the flame, arms raised and circling it, sidestepping counterclockwise.
"The fiends!" swore Dumnorix. Just then, one of the watchmen lost his nerve and threw his lit bottle; it was a poor throw, as were the rest of them that followed instinctively. They all crashed uselessly to the cobbles doing nothing but alert the Vespertines to the party, and then both sides charged straight for each other, blades drawn. The fight was fierce, brutal, and no quarter was given or asked, the floor of the temple was soon slick with blood from both sides. It was a strangely quiet fight, the atmosphere deadened by the malign influence of the flame.
Spotting an opportunity to attack the cultists with the Vespertines engaged, Aurelius and his men rushed out of the shadows. The wizard had his staff raised high but tripped and fell hard on the stone slabs, nearly knocking himself out. His companions went to the aid of their fellows, cutting into the Vespertines from behind and allowing Jean and Oiseau to run at the robed figures. Jean cut his down and was horrified to see the snarling visage of a gnoll under the hood, Oiseau's target was human but had been warned by Jean's attack and did not succumb.
The cultists were aware of their danger now and withdrew to the far side of the flame as Dumnorix charged in. The swing from his polehammer lifted the nearest robed figure from its feet and hurled it back into the flame itself. He was incinerated immediately, the flame growing in height and intensity, burning with flickers of orange, green, red, and, impossibly, black flames!
Now the remaining cultists retaliated. One clamped glowing hands to either side of the head of a watchman who screamed briefly then fell lifeless to the floor.
Another sent a bolt of green flame that washed over Jean's shield, not injuring him but slowing his advance enough that the two ended up in an evenly matched sword versus magic melee. Montagne fared better, braining one cleric and charging into the one who had killed the watchman.
Finding himself not engaged, Dumnorix turned his attention to the clear leader of the cultists. With an incoherent cry of righteous fury, he charged... Aractheon's cleric raised a hand and from the depths of his hood came a pressure wave that shimmered the air more completely than the heat from a blacksmiths forge. It struck Dumnorix square in the chest and hurled him thirty feet to land a crumpled and unconscious rag doll in an ignominious pile.
Aurelius was back on his feet and belaboured an unsuspecting cultist with his staff, determined to do his bit. Montagne slew his current foe and turned on the evil cleric, spinning his morningstar menacingly and advancing cautiously. Tybalt had heard the clamour and seen the flash of spellcasting, he snuck in to the temple but a combination of odd lighting and his earlier travails meant he failed miserably to shoot anything. Jean had just triumphed over his adversary and was about to turn on the spider-god's cleric when a group of armed men came out of the side chambers of the temple - it was Berignon, Alaric and other priests of Alathea, in chains, but Jean had never met those men, it was the guards that caught his eye. A couple of Vespertines, a couple in the livery of green with a white fox's head of de Frith, and there, leading them, was Henri de Frith himself! "Traitor! Murderer!" he yelled and charged at the man he felt responsible for his master's cowardly slaughter.
"Stop them! If they get them into the flames, gods only know what will happen!" shrieked Aurelius, flapping across the paving to obstruct the prisoners.
Montagne wasn't going to take his eyes off the leader, and wisely so. He advanced, but the cleric raised a hand and then suddenly clenched it into a fist. The ex prize-fighter felt his lungs squeeze as though they were being pulled through his chest, but it lasted only a moment. Then a coiling black strip of no-light twisted through the air and cut him savagely across his cheek. But now he was close enough and he ran. Ran as fast as he could, knowing if he missed he would die and maybe the world with him. With every ounce of his strength he brought his mace down, down, crashing into the chest of the cleric where it embedded briefly, before evaporating and spitting like water dropped onto a hot pan. On his knees, Montagne waited for the end. The cleric seemed to grow in size, arms raised aloft, pulsing with near-visible power, darkness pooling around him... except at the point where the mace had hit him. He brought his hands down sharply in front of him and a jagged line of light appeared in the air. He reached forward and pulled it apart, an opening in the air, and stepped through. It snapped shut behind him; he was gone. The flame, too, vanished and with it the feelings of nausea that had afflicted our heroes.
Someone hit Jean in the side of the head and de Frith and his remaining men ran off into the now-normal darkness, abandoning their prisoners.
The temple fell silent. They had won. For now.
Two successive saves against spells, followed by a modified 21 to hit, and 10 damage by Montagne was enough to persuade Aractheon's cleric off through a portal to... somewhere else. Their combat rolls generally must have been blessed by Alathea because they just became unstoppable in hher temple. I do hope it won't make them rash in future... mwahahaahahah!
Epilogue, and new story arc, to follow, but that was our last session until next academic year in September.