21st of Zephyr, 1075 AE
No body of soldiers should ever enter upon any great or important undertaking without first invoking the blessing of the five gods of Elona. With a week before Sunspear ships—bolstered by the Istani navy and allies from afar off—set sail for Kourna’s capital, it was imperative that the pious and devout beseeched Balthazar, Dwayna, Grenth, Lyssa, and Melandru for their aid and support.
The four Sunspears who, at the Spearmarshal’s encouragement and by their own initiative, became deeply embroiled in and instrumental to the revealation of Varesh Ossa’s crimes, were tasked with venturing to the shores of the Issnur Isles, Istan’s agricultural southern lands, thence to return with news of the god of nature’s approval, or the lack thereof.
Knowing the shrine they sought sat at the center of a long-abandoned outpost once used to offer prayers and adorations to Melandru and seek her humble forgiveness as farmers slowly tamed the isles for their own uses, they approached with stealth—with so much corsair activity of late they would undoubtedly take a fortress, even a long-unused one, as a convenient base of operations. Their fears were well-founded, and they discovered a crew of pirates, relaxing and enjoying the spoils of a recent raid against local farmers.
Killing the most aggressive and forcing the captain to bend a knee in supplication, the Sunspears drove the brigands from the area, turning their attention to the decayed shrine which dominated the keep’s courtyard. It had a pallor of disease, its roots stretching outward in the vain hope of finding any semblance of sustainance. Setting down to rest and refresh themselves, they consulted upon the spot about how they could bring the light of nature back to the shrine which had been for too long abandoned and ignored.
Walking about the weather-ravaged fort as his companions debated the spiritual merits of one approach over another, Issa idly skipped rocks against the mossy flagstone, hunting for inspiration for his next inspirational beat. One rock took an unexpected bounce and disappeared behind a pile of rubble, where it continued bouncing, as if into a deep cave hidden under the debris.
“Guys you might want to see this,” he called out, peering into the caverns which seemed to extend below the fort, including to where the statue’s diseased roots lay. Surmising that the source of its corruption could be found beneath, they readied their torches and stepped into the subterranean darkness that yawned before them.
The air was musty, almost thick on their tongues as they advanced through the ancient basement structure, moss and mold covering the smooth-hewn stone. Limestone statues of men and women stared blankly from the darkness, their vacant eyes dully reflecting the party’s torchlight. None felt comfortable—or safe—in the underground confines.
Finding storerooms with delapidated and time-worn crates, filled with rotted remnants of centuries-old clothing, the party were none too pleased to see more statues, slack-jawed and disquieting, at the edge of their vision. Working up the courage to examine one up close, Lulit was raked by savage claws as the sculpture burst into action, its visage twisting into one of abject loathing and insatiable hunger. Fighting off the poison which coursed through her wound, she led her companions in pummelling the terrible creature into dust.
“Okay, nobody goes off alone,” she suggested wryly, rubbing the deep gashes on her shoulder.
Exploring the labyrinthine catcombs, the Sunspears faced and defeated more animated statues and amorphous oozes coated with corrosive acid, the likes of which they had never encountered on the surface. The presence of so many foul creatures spoke volumes about the lack of care and attention the shrine above received since the fort was abandoned hundreds of years prior. Lulit and Akeela were particularly soured, being most closely-tied to the nature goddess themselves.
Bravely stepping beyond a veil of shadow through which no light could pass, the party at last found themselves in a large chamber beneath the shrine of Melandru, its large root structure extending from the ceiling through the stone floor. “It looks sick,” Akeela lamented, remarking on the roots’ oily and slick appearance. Before anyone could stop her, she reached out and placed her hand on the root, in a gesture of consolation.
Awakened by her touch, the mercury-like ooze which had thoroughly infused the root lashed out, sending her reeling. It peeled away from the superstructure, forming multiple pseudopods, glistening with a dull metallic sheen in their dim torchlight.
“Get down!” Lulit called to her companion, launching a magic-infused arrow into the body of the creature, her shot exploding into a hail of thorns. As she lined up a second arrow however, another animated statue lumbered out of the darkness behind her, sinking its sharp claws into her back. Grunting with pain, she could feel the beast’s poison working its way through her body, stiffening her limbs.
Tancred charged the horrible sculpture gnawing on Lulit, crushing it with blows from his mighty flail. As he turned to tend to the ranger’s wounds he grew horrified however—the monster’s vile poison had petrified her, frozen in time as she attempted to draw her bowstring for another shot.
Issa darted past the enormous ooze’s powerful limbs to assist Akeela, his biting words and quick scimitar cutting into the creature. Prayers to Melandru fell from the druid’s lips as she attempted to avoid the creature’s powerful attacks as it struck at her again and again with blinding ferocity and biting poison.
Channelling Balthazar’s might to give Lulit a fighting chance against the paralytic toxins in her bloodstream, Tancred slowly saw color start to return to her skin and muscles twitch with newfound life. Finally her fingers had enough mobility to let her readied arrow fly.
Having been forced into a defensive position by the ooze’s onslaught, Issa and Akeela got the break they needed as Lulit’s arrow struck home, sending the viscious blob reeling. Channelling their respective energies—one arcane, one divine—they lashed out at the staggered creature with phantasmal blades and chilling frost, chewing through its acidic exterior until, at last, the beast lost all cohesion, spilling to the floor like a flask of mercury from a tall shelf.
Regrouping, their labored breaths hung in the cloying air. Though the foul ooze which had inundated the shrine to Melandru had been defeated, no change in the great tree was observed and the dank basement held the same sense of malice the Sunspears felt since descending into its depths.
Akeela, channeling healing and anti-poison magics, anointed the great roots with holy water provided by Tancred, lifting her voice to the air as she sought to infuse the power of life and nature into the dessicated and withered tree. After hours of prayers, magic, and devotionals, the roots began to glow, small beads of light tracing paths from beneath the cold stone floor, winding around and through the enormous tree. Brightening as her ministrations intensified, soon the entire chamber was pulsing with a warm, verdant light.
Returning to the surface, they found the upper half of the shrine radiating as well, the dryad carved and shaped therein looking to all the world as if sleeping in tranquil peace.
With their task of begging Melandru’s blessing to their efforts accomplished, they turned their attention to their next aim—returning to the Sunspear Great Hall and girding themselves for war.
31st of Zephyr, 1075 AE
Standing before the combined forces of Sunspear and Istani troops, the former shining brilliant white in the formal battle dress armour of the Order, Spearmarshal Kormir and Raidmarshal Mehdara addressed the crowd from Kamadan’s consolate docks. They spoke of the unprecedented measures necessary to contain an unprecedented threat. Kourna had brought war to Istan’s peaceful shores, and it was the Sunspears who would finish the conflict by arresting Varesh Ossa and forcing her to account for her crimes and those of her twisted, heretical cult.
“The good and noble Kournan people are not our enemies; they deserve our care and protection, now moreso than ever,” they reiterated, reiterating that the vast majority of Kourna’s citizenry were neither the Order’s enemies nor involved in Varesh’s insane plans. With a final, triumphant cheer, the armies boarded Istan’s vast armada and set sail for the Kournan capital of Gendara, and the Moon Fortress therein.
Rather than fight the superior Kournan forces head-on, the Sunspears aimed to make the best use of their small-team tactics honed over generations of protecting even the most far-off regions of Elona. Strike teams were tasked with simultaneous, disparate goals, designed to draw as much of the defensive army away from the city center. Once suitably distracted, the Sunspears would regroup and charge Varesh Ossa’s fortified headquarters directly.
With ship cannons shelling the inner city, the four Sunspears who received the blessing of Melandru were dropped off near a small sally port on the western edge of the fortress. Armed with a hand-drawn map of the immediate city, they were tasked with the safe recovery of several Sunspear agents who had been captured and imprisoned as tensions heated up between Kourna and Istan.
Fighting their way through Gendara’s cobbled streets, with the creative application of non-damaging spellcasting to drive common citizenry away from the urban fighting, Tancred recognized that the many layers of defense—and defenders—were taking a toll on the party. Silently judging the temperament of his companions, he knelt near the body of a slain Kournan soldier and whispered an intricate prayer to Balathazar that the god of war might speak to Grenth on his behalf. The god of cold and death responded favorably, and the fallen soldier shuddered with necromantic energy, rising doggedly to its feet.
Largely unsure what to make of the latest application of Tancred’s piety, his party reserved judgment, but were ultimately appreciative of the assistance; an extra blade, even one fueled by “unconventional” resources, was welcome in the seemingly endless battles through the twisting streets as they neared the district’s center.
With speed, strength, and guile the four Sunspears—and their undead ally—overcame, avoided, and powered through the obstacles Kourna set before them. Bursting into the jail, they were horrified to find soldiers attempting to slay their captives, rather than let them be recovered by the invading forces. Putting a quick stop to their murderous designs, the party rescued three Sunspears, who showed clear signs of mistreatment and malnutrition—abuses which spoke volumes of how the Kournan elite had painted the Sunspears and the long road ahead to restore trust and faith in the historic Order, even after Varesh’s influence had been removed.
Escorting the freed prisoners back to an awaiting ship, the party took a moment to steady themselves and recover. Their next target was the Moon Fortress itself, regrouping with the bulk of the Sunspear forces, joining with Kormir in an assault against the arguably most heavily-defended structure in all of Elona. With minds to the future but eyes on the present, the four Sunspears marched onward to destiny.
Reuniting with Spearmarshal Kormir, Castellan Puuba, and other friendly and familiar faces at the entrance to the Moon Fortress, the company of Sunspears directly tasked with the capture and arrest of Varesh Ossa marched into the Kournan capital with grim determination. Splitting into small groups to clear out the luxurious residences and estates of the Kournan elite—many already shelled by Istani cannon fire—they marched on the Temple of the Five Gods, where their quarry surely lay in wait.
“Varesh Ossa!” Kormir bellowed at the entrance to the holy shrine, her brilliant white armour seemingly untouched by the violence necessitated by the mission. “You are to surrender yourself for trial; let no more Kournans suffer for your arrogance and your ego.”
Emerging onto a second-storey balcony with a saunter bordering on a swagger, Kourna’s highest commander looked down upon the army arrayed before her with contempt. “You silly fools,” she snorted. “Your laws and your gods mean nothing to me. Witness the true power of Nightfall—witness the Margonites!”
Thrusting her arms skyward, a pulsing amathyst barrier crackled to life around the temple, mystical energy barracading Varesh from the Sunspears even as the air filled with low-toned whthwip sounds. All around the invading army creatures began to appear, teleporting or having been summoned from some distant place. Vaguely humanoid and bipedal, much of their bodies were made up of a bright purple energy, their insectoid and chitinous faces matching Varesh’s sneer of disdain.
“Demons!” Kormir yelled, taking a knee and calling forth a defensive aura of her own, hoping to shield the soldiers at her side. “Sunspears, defend yourselves!”
As more and more of the aggressive horde appeared on the battlefield, larger, multi-limbed demons rose from the waters surrounding the temple. “Kill her!” demanded Varesh Ossa, pointing an accusing finger at Kormir. “And then the rest!”
Taking quick stock of the situation and seeing the terrible forces arrayed against her, Kormir turned to the battle brothers and sisters which had followed her so deep within enemy territory, each for whom she felt a deep and personal responsibility. “Run, my Sunspears, run!” she ordered.
As if a dam no longer able to hold back the floodwaters, the sea of demons surged forward, collapsing on the Spearmarshal and the soldiers at her side. Amid the hissing and snarling of otherworldly voices, the sounds of sword and shield, and the frequent prayers for divine assistance, Varesh Ossa’s laugh carried over the battlefield, following the Sunspears as their lines broke and the soldiers fled through the streets of Gandara, pursued by Kournan troops and inhuman monstrosities summoned from places unimaginable.
“Praise Abaddon” Varesh sneered, watching the chaos, destruction, and death before her.