Dogs of War

Megasphagion 1, 3,377

3,378 Thriambion 20

We were planning our trip to Lord Periandros’ new marble quarry near a small village on the southern peninsula called Marmakomè. Since the mayor had contracted my lord in order to build a new temple, it was clearly very important, but work was apparently being impeded by some two-headed dog, and my lord asked me to take care of it.

The expedition seemed much like many others, but for some reason, I was filled with trepidation. Perhaps it was just the pounding wind and overcast sky, with rain threatening to break at any moment.

Or perhaps it was the dream I’d had the previous night. All I can recall was that Bellisarius was there and we were dueling. I was besting him until he began using the sword, Judgment, and he was saying that if he had had it when he fought the shadows, they wouldn’t have been able to touch him. Then I was in a cemetery, and the undead were rising from the ground. Then I was using the sword and was able to cut them down fast, but they kept coming.

In the morning, I learned that all my companions had had similar dreams involving the undead rising from their graves.

Sephiro wanted to question Thea, the priestess of Karametra, so we accompanied him. She admitted to hearing rumors of a witch.

Pericles contacted Moira via Sending, and she replied by saying that she would send an emissary in the morning.

The next morning the winds were even stronger. Nevertheless, there was a raven pecking at Pericles’ shutters.

Unable to fly in the gale-force winds, the raven mounted Pericles’ shoulder and still managed to lead the way.

Three hours later, we were deep within the Eldenwood, when the raven squawked loudly.

Soon we saw five sets of large antlers, emerge from the woods. It was a pack of elk, and the leader was as large as Cupid. I rode Cupid forth to greet the beast, and its hoof dug into the ground as if issuing a challenge. Compelled to oblige, we advanced, as my companions held back to watch what would unfold.

The elk leader charged first, and its antlers smashed into Cupid, who pulled away. I couldn’t help but think that Cupid was holding back to see what this challenger was made of.

Together we turned and charged. As their antlers clashed, Cupid’s tore into the challenger, knocking it off its feet and sending it tumbling to the ground where it fell still.

I quickly leaped off Cupid and Laid Hands on the beast, reviving it. It lifted its head and nodded in recognition, able, but unwilling to rise after its defeat.

The other elk bowed toward Cupid, who strode with renewed pride as we led our companions away, deeper into the woods.

A short while later, we reached Moira's tomb.

The tomb was surrounded by a field of rubble, overgrown with vines.

The raven flew in and we followed. Sephiro explained his vision. Moira explained that she had helped facilitate the downfall of Agnomahkos. In her typically cryptic way, she warned, "A man is seeking the powers of one that was imprisoned by the goddess of fate. Has already begun rituals."

When we returned to Neolantika, we visited the temple of Erebos to warn the priest, Thersites, of our visions, but he was undeterred and uninterested.

The next morning we left Neolantoka for the quarry, heading southwest of Arnedemos, to the furthest end of the hills. The weather had turned and it was still cloudy, but with only a light rain.

We followed the coast south until it turned abruptly west and we continued south, avoiding the Triton village.

Eventually, we head southwest into the hills.

A short while later, we saw a cluster of homes and circled around the village of Arnedemos.

Soon after, we saw figures in the distance, apparently dancing on a hilltop. As we drew closer we could see that they were harpies, and seemed to be performing some ritual. Sephiro and Athyn went ahead to investigate, while Pericles hung back with Cupid and me. We saw a bit of a commotion and soon Sephiro and Athyn were running back to us. The harpies flew off.

Sephiro explained that he had disrupted their ritual with a Hypnotic Pattern.

Searching their ritual site, Sephiro found an effigy of a horned figure.

We marched on until we reached the end of the hills, where we finally found the quarry. It was about one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide. Not too far off was a camp surrounded by tall wooden palisades.

We entered the quarry and were soon led by the guards to a large tent to see the foreman.

The foreman, Linos, explained that the beast’s attacks began months ago, and continued every couple of nights, always at night. He said it was a great hound with two heads and had killed many of the workers, hindering their progress with the quarry.

We could see that the quarry was being worked by slaves who were being treated harshly by the guards. Linos explained that the workers were mostly criminals and had been imported from Deyda. Their leader was a large man named Kolos.

Linos also shared that he was a devotee of Heliod, and asked Pericles to perform a sermon in the morning.

This harsh treatment of the workers was a matter I intended to deal with but thought it prudent to first deal with the greater threat at hand.

At Pericles’ suggestion, we slept in Sephiro’s Tiny Hut between the quarry and the palisade.

The night passed uneventfully.

In the morning, Pericles performed a beautiful sermon, though I was somewhat surprised he did not castigate Lunis and his men for their treatment of the workers.

Afterward, Linos led us to the quarry and to what he called, the cursed room. It was a small chamber they had unearthed during their digging. Eager to leave the place, Linos soon left us alone to investigate.

The small chamber contained four black marble columns streaked with gold veins. Carved into the pillars were carvings of goat-like skulls. In the center of the columns was a large disk on the floor. It appeared to be a trap door, but there was no obvious way to open it.

There were engravings on the columns and around the disk, and Athyn recognized the writing as Primordial. She read the one surrounding the disk aloud: “All is revealed with one step forward.”

Examining the writing, Athyn explained that there were more letters she could make out, but that they didn’t make any sense. The same was the case for the engravings on the columns.

I suggested that she try using a cipher I had used to communicate in secret with the children at Periandros’ estate. I didn’t think it would work, but thought it worth a try given the writing at the base of the disk.

Soon, after diligently swapping each letter with its predecessor, she had deciphered the rest of the text.

The rest of the engravings circling the trap door said: “NO MORTAL OUGHT ENTER WITHOUT GREATEST NEED

The engravings on the columns seemed to form a riddle:

Calling for the guards, we got them to bring us tarps to cover the entrance until we were able to sufficiently block all the light from the outside.

Advancing on the disk, it opened, but closed in a few seconds, barely giving someone time to descend into the depths below.

Testing the trapdoor, we discovered that it was very strong, with a sharpness that easily sliced through any rope we tried to drop down.

One by one we descended, dropping down twenty feet to the chamber below. We landed on a soft rug that covered most of the floor.

The small chamber at the bottom contained two doors, each on opposite walls. Against the wall in between the doors was an ancient relief of Klothys, the goddess of fate, with the inscription: Our Lady of the Eternal Watch.

Beyond one of the doors was a similar room, but with the other door on the adjacent wall. In between the two doors were stairs leading down, but blocked by a collapsed ceiling. Within the room were racks of weapons.

Beyond the second door was a room similar to the first, but containing a table and chairs, and a pedestal off to the side. On the wall was a mural of Klothys, and on the table was a brass bowl containing bone dice.

On the pedestal was a scroll with a marked passage: “Attempt 446: Once more we attempted a new ritual to destroy the Ear of Skotha, but it cannot be unmade. It is darkness taken physical form. It is the key to his prison. May all the gods help us if it hears.”

We dragged the tables, chairs, and racks into the first room and piled them up until we could reach the trapdoor. Sephiro climbed up and leaped through the trapdoor to the chamber above. Then he had the guards bring us a ladder, which we placed atop our pile to secure our exit.

The fourth room was similar to the second room but contained a large library of tomes and scrolls. Another set of stairs also led down, leading in the same direction as the caved-in stairs, but these stairs were free of debris. This room also had a third door opposite the one we entered from.

I packed some interesting books into my pack.

Noting that the far door was locked, we opened the door across from the stairs. It seemed that we were circling a central chamber at the bottom of the stairs.

The fifth room was similar to the first and third but was filled with bunks. At the foot of each set of bunks was a chest.

Examining the first chest, Athyn deftly avoided a poison needle in the lock and opened it, revealing a brain that leaped out of the chest on two large bestial clawed feet.

The last thing I remember before things became fuzzy is stabbing at the aberration and feeling a sharp pain inside my head!

When I awoke, I was lying in a bunk with my companions around me, and I couldn’t think straight.

I don’t know how long we remained down there. All I recall is eventually following them into another room that was filled with robed undead. There were flashes of Pericles’ divine radiance and my spear impaling the skull of the undead leader.

Having circled, but not having entered the central chamber, we eventually emerged from the underground chambers, the world around me still very difficult to comprehend.

Struggling to put my thoughts together, I managed to call out, “Light!”

Eventually, my companions arranged to have the guards ensure that the chamber would remain lit so that the door would not open, trapping the beast below.

I rested in the camp, trying to recover my wits, but eventually, my companions tired of waiting and decided we should descend into the depths once more.

It seemed that the two rooms on the far side both had locked doors on the far walls, but Anthyn had found two keys in the chests she had opened.

I was eager to descend the stairs, where I believed the dog to be, but my companions insisted we search behind the locked doors first. Due to my confused state, Pericles led the way with his divine Light on his shield.

The door opened into a short corridor that quickly turned right and opened into a larger chamber. A walkway crossed the chamber, leading to a similar corridor. Darkness engulfed the chamber to the sides of the walkway. In the center of the chamber was a black stone obelisk, about two feet tall by six inches wide.

Using my Divine Sense, I was alerted to the presence of an intense evil. I pushed my way in front of Pericles, determined to shield him from whatever danger might await. As I approached the entryway into the large chamber, a large stone slab fell before me, blocking our entrance.

We stepped back to make room for Athyn as she investigated the stone door. She found a hidden panel in the wall, and behind it were three taught wires. She and Sephiro examined the wires until Sephiro suddenly cut one of them and we heard something slam within the walls.

They decided we should go around to the other side of the chamber to see if we could enter from there.

We circled around, passing through the library, barracks, and kitchen chambers.

As soon as we approached the large chamber from the other side, I was once again aware of the great evil emanating from the chamber. As I maneuvered to shield Pericles from any threats, Sephiro tumbled past me, into the chamber.

I turned to see a sly smile on his face as the stone door dropped, trapping him within.

Soon he called out to us, informing us that there were knobs on the wall and that he thought he could open the doors.

Athyn waited while Pericles and I circled back around to the original side.

Eventually, the stone door rose and where there had always been a stump on Sephiro’s arm was now an ebony hand. He explained that it was crawling within the room and had attached itself to him. He must have been drawn to this room, as he had mentioned having a dream involving a hand.

Examining the chamber, Athyn said there was an inscription on the obelisk written in Primordial, but said she was afraid to speak the words aloud.

As were leaving, Sephero, as impulsive as ever, grabbed the obelisk! A flash of darkness exploded from the obelisk, washing over us, and then it was gone. Also gone were the shadows surrounding the edges of the chamber’s walkway. Where the shadows had been, we could now see piles of copper coins and hundreds of bronze spears. Sephiro filled a sack with coins, noting that they all had the symbol of the Triad of Fates on them.

Content that we had finished exploring the various chambers, my companions were finally ready to descend the stairs and confront the beast I had been sent to deal with.

Before we entered, I struggled to explain to Pericles that we should prepare any spells in advance, and eventually, he understood, surrounding him and us in his divine Spirit Guardians. Meanwhile, Sephiro cast Tiny Hut at the top of the stairs, so we would have a safe place to retreat to if necessary.

As Pericles approached the door, it opened, and inside the large monstrosity was waiting; three heads dominated by fang-filled maws.

Searing from Pericles’ divine radiance, the large bestial dog exhaled a cone of molten rock up the stairway at us, scorching us all. I plunged my spear into its maw over and over, smiting it with my own divine radiance, until it briefly stumbled before turning and smashing through the door across the chamber and retreating up the stairway. It fell still on the stairway as Athyn, finally getting a clear shot, sank an arrow into its thick scaly hide.

In a stupor, I climbed into the stairway and squeezed past it, emerging blood-soaked in the chamber beyond. I tried to drag the beast up the stairs, but it was too heavy.

Circling around the chambers, my companions joined me and we cut off the three heads. Sephiro produced a large sack and crammed them inside.

Before we ascended into ‘the cursed room’, I urged my companions not to reveal to the camp that we had destroyed the beast, lest any of them try to pillage the place. It was a struggle to get them to understand me, but eventually, they caught on and agreed.

When we returned to camp that evening, we were soon informed that we had a visitor, and it was Pontreus! It was good to see my good friend alive, though I cannot say he was well. He was suffering from an injury, which I immediately alieved, laying hands on him.

Pontreus explained that The Shorestalkers had overrun their village and were planning an attack on Neolantika and the surrounding lands. He went on to say that their forces were spread thin and now was the best time to strike, but that we would need a substantial force.

Pericles proposed the guards, but Pontreus said they were too small a force to contend with The Shorestalkers. “Slaves!” I uttered, struggling to explain what I had in mind. Numbering at least a thousand—five times the number of the guards—Pontreus thought their numbers sufficient but was concerned that they were unarmed and unaligned.

“Spears!” I offered, reminding everyone of the spears we had discovered in the chambers below. Slowly a plan took shape. We would use the spears and coin we found to persuade the slaves to fight for us, and in return, they would earn their freedom, and perhaps renown.

There was concern that Linos and his men would not approve, but it was eventually agreed that Athen, Sephiro, and Pontreus would speak with Kolos, urging him to join them without turning on the guards. Meanwhile, Pericles and I would try to convince Linos to set the slaves free.

The talk with Linos did not go well, as I was unable to properly verbalize the necessity of our plan and its benefit to Linos, and Pericles was too willing to accept his assertion that the slaves could not be trusted.

At Linos’ request, Pericles promised to give a sermon in the morning, which the priest hoped might ease the guard’s concerns and show him the light. But that night there was an uproar and we were called to urgently join Linos outside of the camp.

It was almost morning and he had gotten word that the slaves had been freed and armed. He commanded his guards to lock the palisades and set them afire. He was going to burn all the slaves alive!

Pericles struggled to convince Linos against this course of action. Linos was just about to give the order when Sephiro enveloped him in Silence! I seized the moment, shouting, “Run!” and “Flee!” at the guards, commanding the guards to follow my lead. At first, only a few of the guards took flight. I called to Cupid, who instantly arrived from around the palisade. More guards began to follow. Leaping onto Cupid, I rallied the remaining guards through force of will, while Linos shouted angrily in Silence.

Once we were clear, I knew that the slaves would be freed from the palisade, and sure enough, Pericles soon arrived with Linos and confirmed that it had been done. Pontreus, Sephiro, and Athyn were leading the slaves to march on the Triton village!

Linos was furious, and I was barely able to explain to him and the guards that we all worked for Lord Periandros and that his safety was of utmost importance. So with that, we marched to Lord Periandros’ estate.

When we arrived, Lord Periandros was pleased to hear that we had slain the beast that was endangering his mining operations but frustrated that we had freed the slaves and abandoned the operation. I did my best to explain to him that it was all necessary to keep him and Neolantika safe from the impending onslaught from The Shorestalkers.

After resting at the estate, we were soon on our way to Neolantika. In the distance, we could see smoke rising from the Triton village.

As we were approaching Neolantika, we were joined by Sepjiro and Athyn. Athyn was visibly perturbed with Sephiro. From their telling, Kolos successfully led his men in their assault on The Shorestalers, but afterward, Sephiro either allowed or encouraged them to pillage the place, encouraging them to visit Krimnos, the home of the crime syndicate. Pontreus had remained behind.

I was frustrated with the situation but had to focus on the safety of Neolantika, which we were fast approaching. I had hoped we would be approaching with greater numbers, fortified by Kolos’ men.

As we arrived, we learned that the town had been evacuated, with most of the civilians hiding in the outer farms, while the nobility were sheltering near the templed of Erebos, which was purported to be the most defensible fortification in town.

Tents had been raised in the nearby cemetery, and it was there that all the nobles were congregating. Recalling my dream, I was sure that mischief was afoot. I was convinced that this must be a trap.

Lord Periandros brought me to Mayor Niko, who informed us that his forces would be led by General Mantes, but that he wanted me to lead the main battalion against The Shorestalkers.

I never trusted the mayor or thought very highly of him, but the defense of Neolantika was of paramount importance and I would do everything in my power to see the battle was won.

While we waited, I tried in vain to convince the nobility that the cemetery was a dangerous place and that they should seek shelter elsewhere, but my concerns went unheeded and they insisted that the mayor had assured their safety.

Pericles and I visited Eudoxos at the temple of Heliod. Pericles explained what had transpired since we had left for the quarry and everything we had found. Eudoxos had no answers for us other than to maintain our faith. Together we brought the lantern Pericles had given him to the temple of Erebos, hoping that its light would help keep the people there safe.

Sephiro gave an inspiring speech to the battalions as we waited for The Shorestalker onslaught to arrive.

And soon enough it came! Our forces fought valiantly, Cupid and I leading the way into the midst of our enemy. But we were sorely outnumbered, and eventually, we were flanked on all sides. The situation was dire indeed.

But Heliod must have heard our prayers. Just as the battle was at its darkest, Kolos arrived with what remained of his men! These unexpected reinforcements were enough to turn the tide of the battle, and The Shorestalkers were soon routed. Kolos’ men and the Neolantika guard pursued the fanatics, determined to ensure that none of them survived to return again.

When the battle was over, there were cheers for our victory as well as mourning for all we had lost. Most of Neolantika had gone up in flames. Some said it was The Shorestalkers’ doing, while others blamed Kolos’ men. But the city could be rebuilt. What mattered is that its citizens were safe once again.

The battle had barely ended when the skies began to darken. The sun itself was being blotted out from the sky. Immediately I ran toward the cemetery—my companions following closely—from where the darkness appeared to be centered.

I shouted for any remaining nobility to flee to the temple, and they obeyed, following us to the safety within. There Sephiro and Pericles grabbed the lantern and dragged it to the graveyard where I was waiting on Cupid.

Then it was like the vision from my dream. Undead began to rise from the graves.

In their center of the undead rising from their graves was a horrible monstrosity of nightmare. It stretched its large leathery batlike wings and swung its spiked tail. It flexed its long-taloned hands menacingly. The worst was how its slick black skin stretched over a featureless face. Then it lowered its massive horns, as if in a challenge.

As I charged atop mighty Cupid, I drew Judgment and it glowed brightly in the dark. The leathery monstrosity stretched its limbs toward me, but I deftly cut through them and with a Divine Smite I landed a critical blow, severing its head!

Meanwhile, Pericles was blasting the largest cluster of undead with his divine radiance of Spirit Guardians and they were falling quickly before him.

I turned Cupid around and charged at the last group of undead. I sliced through the first and the second, and Cupid stomped down the last.

For a moment it seemed the threat had been eliminated as soon as it had begun, but using my Divine Sense, I could tell there were more undead lurking in the surrounding mausoleums.

Wherever we found undead, they fell before Pericles’ divine radiance. In one of the structures, we found nobility, masked in gold. Fearful of our wrath, they claimed that the mayor had orchestrated everything and demanded they follow along, promising them immortality. They pointed us to where he was supposedly located.

We hurried to where we suspected he would be performing his rituals. I dismounted Cupid and we descended the stairs into the largest of the mausoleums and there we Mayor Niko at the far end of a long chamber, standing over an altar.

As soon as he began to protest, “You think you can stop,” or something like that, I blasted him with a Guided Bolt and dashed to confront him, Judgment in hand.

Pericles was soon at my side, scorching the mayor with his divine radiance. The fight was brief, and it was Athyn’s arrow that ultimately put him down.

As we emerged from the mausoleum, the darkness was already diminishing and Heliod’s light was beginning to brighten the sky.

There had been much death and destruction, but soon it would be time for mending and reconstruction. The rising of the dead as unliving puppets of an immortal undead lord has been thwarted. The treacherous Mayor Niko was slain and his ritual to release the Skotha, the titan of darkness, has been stopped. The Mayor's henchman, General Mantes, has been captured. Kolos, a figure hated by Tritons but beloved by Neolantikans, has also been named a hero of Neolantika by the new Mayor Periandros, whose first act was to rebuild all of the town that had been burned by The Shorestalkers, and to create better living conditions for the common folk.

Throughout the town they cried that Aribantes the Champion of Heliod, along with his companions, the divine Pericles, Priest of the Sun, Athyn the Triton Adventurer, and Sephiro the Rehanded were all heroes.

Your son in glory,
Aribantes, Champion of Heliod

P.S. Meanwhile, it was soon heard that after the eclipse of the sun had ended, a woman wearing a golden mask was seen riding off into the wild, her white hair flowing behind her as she rode north.

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