The Whisperer in Darkness
The grim band spend the morning marching across Raylack countryside, uneventfully forging a path through Raylack Swamps shortly after midday. Though the last effort to clear the Gorge under Sheriff Brandis and Captain Ranat was unsuccessful, it did manage to wipe out the enemy forces along the way, creating a safe road for the party. Wistark and Grimlock use the long walk to drill the troops in a series of mental exercises, designed to boost their resistance to psychic attacks from the Fini. When Branock’s Gorge eventually appears in the distance, the large group take a short rest to prepare themselves. Wistark runs through the plan one last time and then makes a short speech, promising that no matter what happens in there, the sacrifice will be worth it.
As the combatants make the last leg of their journey to the battlefield, they leave behind their extra baggage – food, sleeping rolls, pots and pans, tinder, changes of clothes. Only weapons and first aid supplies will be necessary now. They draw closer, and the Risen Adventurers recognise the creatures in the waiting valley. Electric crab beasts stand on the cliff tops, floating tentacle creatures hover to and fro, those weird flesh lumps jump stickily back and forth like hopping slugs, and the overwhelming Fini stands behind them, now even taller and more oppressive than on their last visit.
Many of the peasants have not seen these sights before. They start to shake, gripping their weapons tightly as they struggle with terror. Perhaps in other circumstances they would have fled, but flee they did not. In their minds they took a tight hold of Wistark’s plan, knowing their part in it, and found the resolve to stay by their assigned generals. Lumen in particular is reassuring, having quickly formed a confident, easy bond with his seven men that proves him worthy of their obedience, even if he is wearing a severed pectoral fin on his head.
Finally, the 30 participants stand at the entrance to Branock’s Gorge. Waves of psychic malice wash over them, seeking to penetrate and maim the mind’s eye, but the group stand firm against the tide. Wistark steps to the front of the group and turns to face them. The sight of so many bold fighters, determined and terrified, is somehow truly inspiring, and the wizard’s selfish heart softens for the first time. While casting a magical fleetness into his feet, he shouts only, “Men of Raylack. Defend your homes!” before blurring in front of them as he races up onto the cliff top at twice normal human speed, bypassing several enemies along the way and knocking a squealing crab beast off the side of the cliff with a running thunderwave.
Following this demonstration there is no hesitation. Poobeyr and Gravilla lead four units each into the valley and immediately dispatch several flesh lumps with their men. Big Sol accompanies them, intent on protecting his savage daughter. Grimlock charges forward wordlessly with Captain Ranat, leaving his three villagers scrambling in the dust to catch up. In his fearlessness the halfling warrior is inspiring to all present, and Grimlock is invigorated to run all the way to the crab beast knocked off the cliff by Wistark to put it out of its misery. For a moment only the enemy take casualties, but then one of Wistark’s four fighters is killed by a flesh creature as he runs to catch up with the wizard commander.
Wistark’s second man avenges this death with a thrown pitchfork, then scales the gentlest slope to the top of the ledge. Jamarak Cockslicer barrels past him and punctures a second clifftop crab beast with her trident which is then finished off by Lumen’s lads, who fire a united volley at the electric defender with lethal accuracy. At the end of the ledge, Wistark draws a complicated pattern on the ground in his own blood. He hopes to finish the ritual as soon as possible to limit casualties to an absolute minimum. To deny him this goal a tentacle whips out from the Fini shortly after the circle is finished and hoists him off the ground. Jamarak and Lumen race to reach him, but the wizard is still very far ahead.
At the bottom of the valley, Poobeyr has surged to the head of the group with his troops, skipping over patches of rough terrain with unusual swiftness. The warrior is also unusually accurate with his great axe and downs every enemy he gets to close to. Behind him, Gravilla struggles to keep up. Seeing a thunder beast on the east ledge, she leaves her four soldiers behind to scale the vertical cliff. Grimlock takes on a floating tentacle creature with Devlan. The halfling is the perfect height to fight between the dragonborn’s legs. The pair carve their names into the hovering enemy, but life remains within it still and it unleashes a mental blast that vanquishes two of Poobeyr’s brave men. This serves only to enrage the village fighters in the valley and, despite their lack of formal training, they prove a lethal and essential force on the battlefield, attacking in groups to overwhelm weakened opponents.
Up on the cliffside, Wistark is able to fight his way free of the grasping tendril while its grip is still loose. He falls back to the ground and is able to limp out of range of the Fini tentacles, unfortunately leaving his blood circle behind. A floating psychic creature hovers up the side of the cliff to confront the vulnerable wizard and begins a mental assault that he could really do without. Luckily for him, a volley rips into the monster and fixes it bloodily to the valley wall, courtesy of Lumen and his peasant archers. Jamarak and three farmers reach Shizbitts and form a protective wall around him as he spills his blood a second time to draw another complex pattern.
Suddenly, disaster! The cliffside collapses beneath Lumen and his men, who had sacrificed sure footing to defend Wistark. Lumen flips backwards through the air and is unharmed, but three of his men fall to their deaths with an avalanche of scree and rubble. Even worse, two of Grimlock’s abandoned men are at the bottom of this cliff and are killed by falling rocks. General Grimmers fails to notice this loss but, in his defence, he is presently engaged in mortal combat.
A vorpal beast appeared out of thin air in front of him as he dispatched a psychic floater with Devlan, and sank a tooth into his left calf. This gave the the creature the purchase necessary to teleport the bewildered general with it right into the arms of the Fini itself. In revenge, Grimlock lifted the teleporter above his head by its huge teeth and tossed it through the Fini.
Another vorpal beast appears in front of Poobeyr as he dispatches his own tentacle creature, but the bearded fighter refuses to fall for the same trick twice. As the dog-like monster lunges with its gaping maw, Poobeyr cuts its face in half with his axe. This is not enough to kill it, but Big Sol and his two remaining soldiers adequately finish the job. Above and behind them, Gravilla finishes scaling the cliff and charges at the crab beast she finds up there, swinging her bulky warhammer as though it were no lighter than a child’s toy. The squealing monster discharges a painful jolt of electricity, but is killed regardless. The goliath runs past its body along the cliff and finds an easier route back into the valley that will reunite her with her comrades.
Up on the other cliff, Wistark has finished drawing the second circle and begun chanting the spoken part of the ritual. Unfortunately it is a long spell, so the combatants will have to fight on for a long time yet. As Jamarak throws her hunting bolas at the surviving vorpal beast, she witnesses Grimlock cutting a Fini tentacle in half as it tries to strike some of the fighters in the valley, and feels admiration for the brutish lizard for the first time. The brutish lizard in question is joined at the maw of the Fini by Poobeyr and Devlan and they dispatch the last floating tentacle creature between them. The Fini rumbles as a figure passes through from within. A robed figure with a face of death emerges, cackling maniacally through lips made of writhing maggots and rot. It fires a bolt of power, vaporising Poobeyr and Grimlock’s last surviving men with evident glee. The two bloodthirsty warriors turn to face this new threat with Captain Ranat as a hail of arrows from Lumen’s lads rains down from above.
As Big Sol, Gravilla and her four men race to join in, Devlan discovers that the black figure is very powerful and difficult to damage. After striking Poobeyr and Grimlock with chill force, it turns its attention to the approaching goliaths. The figure raises a robed arm and cackles as it blasts them with magical power. Big Sol and Gravilla are only injured, but two villagers are completely eradicated. Grimlock and Poobeyr swing their axes at the black magician once again and land hits that should have felt significant. Instead they feel only robes and maggots beneath their weapons, and the buckled form returns to its former shape apparently unharmed. When Devlan attempts his own attack a tentacle whips from the Fini and starts to drag him towards the gaping maw. Lumen orders a volley of arrows at the constricting limb, but the robed figure intervenes, teleporting from the valley floor right into their midst.
Lumen’s ranged farmers have no defence against the malicious attacks they then receive, and all four of them are killed in seconds. Captain Devlan Ranat is pulled into the Fini, his scream suddenly cut off as he disappears within. Jamarak Cockslicer rushes along the cliff to help Lumen, but before either of them can make even a single furious attack in retaliation the black magician teleports again, this time appearing in front of Wistark. The wizard has just completed the spoken part of the ritual, and now only the drawing of blood remains. Jamarak turns about with startling speed and launches herself at the dark figure. It bats her aside with frightening strength, hurling her off the side of the 40ft cliff. At the bottom of the valley, the irrepressible dragonwoman immediately gets up and starts climbing back up – duty and rage the only thoughts in her mind.
Grimlock and Poobeyr race Jamarak to the top of the cliff to help Wistark but they are not quick enough. Faced with the cackling figure, Wistark turns to his three surviving men. Someone has to spill their life’s blood in the circle. They know that he alone of them has a chance of fighting off this robed personification of death, but their desire to help conflicts with their desire to live. The dilemma of one villager is immediately cut short as the black figure smites him with a beam of dark light. Seeing that his guards have not the courage to sacrifice themselves, Wistark steps forward into the circle and uses a cloud of daggers to cut deep lines into his own arms and wrists. He falls to his knees as his blood leaks into the circle.
The ritual is completed, but the evil spellcaster opposite the kneeling wizard responds only with chilling laughter. As Grimlock, Poobeyr and Jamarak reach the lofty arena, Lumen pulls back the string of his bow as hard as it can go. Screaming in tearful rage for the loss of his men, the elf fires his best arrows of the day at the dark maniac. Bango Skank seems not even to feel the hits, while behind him the Fini rumbles as the ritual takes effect.
Leaning close to Wistark’s whitened face, Bango continues his horrible cackling and then explodes, covering the wounded spellcaster with maggots and filth and knocking him off his knees with a small shockwave. The Fini tentacles writhe and pulsate and diminish as gaps of dusky sunlight shine between them. With a vast tearing sound the dark maw is drawn into itself, disappearing with an explosion of arcanic energy that overwhelms Wistark’s magical senses as he fades from consciousness.
A wave of cheering resounds through Branock’s Gorge as the combatants realise that they have finally won. Poobeyr and Jamarak administer first aid to the fallen wizard as Lumen says a prayer for his departed companions. Big Sol, Gravilla and Grimlock carry the 18 dead villagers to a meadow not far from the valley, where they are buried with a short, thankful ceremony that also acknowledges the loss of Devlan Ranat. Under the setting sun the ten survivors carry Wistark on a stretcher back to Raylack Village.