:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - To the Defence of Darokin City, Part Two ::

Defending Darokin - Part Two

Written by Alastair

A Foray into Malpheggi

The next day found Lana back upon her carpet, gliding over the army as it marched ever northward. Lana was enjoying the welcome rest that came from drifting over the Karameikan forces, despite the concentration needed to guide the carpet she was growing more comfortable with piloting it; after the long journey through Alphatia it was almost second nature to let the magical device drift along above the troops marching below.

To her right, Lana could see the rolling hills growing ever taller as they rose up to become the mountainous border between Darokin and the Shires. To her left lay the dark vista of the dreaded Malpheggi swamp. The army had been forced to choose a course that took it directly alongside the canal that ran from Athenos to the River Streel, and on the other side of the canal lay the clamouring quagmire. Staring into that dark, unapproachable land, Lana’s innate sense of adventure began to assert itself – “it would certainly relieve my boredom if I went for a quick scout in there” she thought to herself.

Swooping down to the vanguard of the army, she brought herself level with Captain Alverian and General Valzerian and put forward her proposal to scout out the borders of the swamp from the air in order to ensure that if was free from bandits, who had been rumoured to be operating in the area.

General Valzerian agreed that a scouting mission would be a good idea, but expressed some concern that Lana should be alone in the venture. Captain Alverian cleared his throat and volunteered to the escort the Lady Mage on her trip – he too expressed a desire to scout out the near reaches of the swamp.

The pair soared over the brackish swamp, watching as the landscape teemed with hostile life. Despite many sightings of crocodiles and other native creatures, Lana could see nothing that could be deemed a threat to the passing armies. Nothing, that is, until her keen sight made out a group of bipeds making their way eastwards towards the canal. Pointing the group out to the Captain, Lana suggested a closer inspection, to which the young soldier readily agreed.

As they drew closer, the adventurers saw that the party was a band of humans, clad in crude armour and hefting old yet well maintained weapons. Deciding that they would have to find out more about these people, Justin asked Lana to bring the carpet to a halt as they drew near, and stood up to address the group.

“Men of Darokin,” began the soldier, “I am Captain Alverian, subcommander of the Karameikan 7th Militia. This area is under martial control – I must ask you to state your business in Malpheggi swamp.”

The assembled bandits (for bandits they surely were) looked surprised at this demand – one among them replied “we are merely displaced refugees, far from our homes and searching for dinner. Surely you cannot begrudge us that… my lord?” The man smiled in a leering fashion.

Lana looked around the group – she realised that Justin was being lied to, but without proof of the men’s intentions there was little that either of them could do about it. Coming to the same conclusion, the Captain replied “well, gentlemen, I would advise that you be quick about your business – there are many dangers in this swamp, “ this statement elicited many grins from the assembled men, “though I do not recommend that you cross the canal yonder – military exercises are taking place, and I wouldn’t want you to come to any… undue harm.” Lana noticed Justin fix the leader of the group with a penetrating stare, only to be met with a confident grin.

”Oh, rest assured, my Lord,” replied the bandit, “we have no intention of getting in the way of your little army.”

Justin nodded, bid the group of men good day, and asked Lana to move the carpet off. For a split second both warrior and mage thought that their words may have had the desired effect, but neither was surprised when a cry of “get them!!” issued from behind them as they began to fly away.

Arrows soared through the air towards the carpet as the bandits fired their bows. Lana weaved the carpet to and fro as Justin pulled out his shield and hunkered down behind it. “There are too many to pick off with my crossbow,” the young captain said to the piloting wizardess, “and I doubt I can take them all on even if you could get close enough to drop me to the ground.”

“Well we have to do something,” cried Lana, “we’re sitting ducks up here, and even if I fly as fast as possible we’ll still be peppered with missile fire.” With a fast banking manoeuvre the carpet swung round to head back towards the attackers. “I’ll have to use my magic – but if I’m hit by an arrow my spellcasting will be ruined…”

“I think I can help there”, said Justin, pulling a luckily aimed arrow from his shoulder, “you cast your spell – I’ll stop the arrows.”

Intrigued, Lana stopped the carpet in the air and stretched out her hands to begin her incantation. As the arrows of her assailants sailed towards her she was surprised to see Justin suddenly step in front of her and cover her with his shield. Even as Lana felt the magical power well up within her, she could hear Justin grunt in pain as the arrows penetrated his armour. At the last moment, when Lana’s spell reached its crescendo, the warrior dropped his shield so that the wizardess could unleash the power of her magic.

Suddenly the arrow fire on the ground stopped. Men shouted in panic as the vegetation around them writhed and expanded. Within seconds the sinister vegetation of the swamp had grown to many times its original size, trapping most of the attackers as it crept over them.

As the injured Justin sank to the carpet, Lana once again focussed her will upon her fabulous flying device, and the pair sped eastwards towards the canal and the armies on the other side. A few arrows flew ineffectually after the retreating duo, but the wall of plantlife effectively blocked the aim of the remaining foes.

Within half an hour Lana saw the moving mass that was the Karameikan army, and banked towards the vanguard. Delivering the wounded Justin into Apolvara’s care, Lana reported the bandit attack to General Valzerian, who expressed his belief that, having lost the element of surprise, the bandits would not attempt to attack the army.

Sure enough, by the time the sun had set, there was no sign of further trouble. As Lana sat by her tent watching the sun set over the army as it made camp, she was pleased to see a much recovered Captain Alverian walking towards her.

“Lady Budanter,” began Justin,”I wanted to thank you for your help today. Had those bandits managed to get the jump on the Army we could have sustained significant losses.”

“Think nothing of it, Captain – I was glad to help,” replied Lana. “Though I wish we had been able to apprehend those villains…”

“We have a greater foe ahead of us, milady. From here on the dangers will only increase.”

Lana merely nodded and gazed into the distance. As she watched, the sun dipped below the horizon, leaving a dark, cloudy night in place of the clear, sunny day.

The Battle of Hinmeet

As the days rolled onwards the army marched ever northward. The road twisted and turned as the rolling hills grew steeper and steeper, giving way to craggy passes and lofty peaks, from which one could look southward all the way to Athenos.

Piotr Grevenov was jarred out of his reverie by a nudge from Apolvara. “It looks like the Captain wants you,” she said to her friend.

“I can’t imagine why,” replied Piotr, “he hasn’t said a word to me since that night after the dragon attack.”

“Well, maybe he’s got a mission for you…”

“One way to find out,” said Piotr, directing his horse into an easy trot to bring him up to the waiting Captain. “Yes, sir?” enquired the young knight on arrival.

“Grevenov.” The deputy commander of the army beckoned Piotr to follow him and spurred his horse towards a waiting band of cavalry. “Fall in with this party,” Captain Alverian called to Piotr, who nodded to a few of the soldiers in the group as he positioned his horse alongside. Alverian waited until he was in position, then called out in a loud voice;

“We are currently but a few miles from the town of Hinmeet. Your orders are to scout out the road between here and there. You will ensure that the passage is clear and keep an eye open for enemy combatants. If all is well, proceed to Hinmeet and alert the town as to our imminent arrival. Any questions? No? Very well then - dismissed.”

Piotr and the other riders thundered up the road, slowing here and there to check the surrounding hills and crags for any potential ambushers. There was no trouble nor any blockages to be found along the route, and the party made good time, however within less than half an hour plumes of smoke and fire could be seen ahead. The town of Hinmeet was obviously in trouble.

Approaching the settlement, in place of the normal sounds of a busy town in late afternoon, Piotr could make out the distant sound of screams and shouts, voices raised in alarm, and guttural howls. Spurring his horse to greater speed he cleared the last bend in the road and emerged from the surrounding wood into a scene of carnage. The inhabitants of Hinmeet were running to and fro in a state of panic, pursued by the menacing, hulking forms of trolls. The roofs of many buildings had been set ablaze; as a desperate ploy the townsfolk had set their homes on fire in the hope of incapacitating some of the marauding creatures. Otherwise, the trolls' natural regenerative abilities meant they would rapidly recover from most physical injuries.

As he was joined by the rest of the scouting party, Piotr turned to the men and said in a commanding voice “we need to help, but we can’t do much by ourselves. Vasili,“ he said, pointing to a young soldier on a fast horse, “you must ride back to the army – rally the cavalry forced and lead them back here. We will do our best to halt the troll’s attacks until you get back.”

Evidently relieved to have avoided direct combat with the trolls, the youngster immediately turned and spurred his horse into a swift pace, quickly disappearing into the woods. The remaining soldiers looked a little disgruntled at Piotr having spontaneously assumed command, but said nothing as he unsheathed his sword, spurred his horse forward and cried “charge! For Karameikos!”

“For the Duke!” came the answering cry from the soldiers as they fell into formation behind Piotr. The young warrior led the small band of men into the middle of the fray chopping and hacking all around them with their weapons. Yet against these foes their weapons were of little effect – even as the men of Karameikos slashed at the flesh of the trolls, they watched in horror as the wounds closed up, leaving not a trace of their attacks.

Piotr knew that his men could not win this combat – he needed simply to delay the trolls and keep them occupied until the better equipped main body of the army could arrive. Minutes passed, and the brave warriors of Karameikos began to tire in the face of their implacable foes. Piotr watched with horror as the trolls attacks began to claim the lives of his colleagues – he knew that there wasn’t much fight left in his little band.

Suddenly a scream from his right distracted the young Karameikan. A young halfling woman had stumbled to the floor, her baby clutched in her hands, and over them towered a massive brute of a troll. Without a moments hesitation Piotr jumped from his horse and barrelled into the troll – he wasn‘t able to knock the thing over, but he did get its attention. Slashing with his sword and ducking behind his shield, Piotr traded blows with the hulking creature, starkly aware that he was one of the few Karameikan soldiers left alive. Suddenly the troll ripped Piotr’s shield from his grasp, laughing evilly as it raised a fist to strike a fatal blow. Piotr offered a prayer to Chardastes, his patron immortal, and prepared to meet his end… yet suddenly, the troll was felled by five bolts of amber magic aimed at its head and chest. As it staggered backwards Lana’s magic carpet swooped into Piotr’s view, coming low enough to allow him to quickly clamber on board. As the pair rose into the air, Piotr thanked Lana sincerely, and looked down just in time to witness the cavalry division of the 7th Militia smash into the troll forces. Fire arrows were deployed by the skirmishers, and burning brands quickly touched to any trolls that were downed by the attackers lances and swords. At the head of the force, Captain Alverian ran a troll through with his lance, then, unable to free his weapon, switched to his great two handed sword to despatch another foe.

The battle raged on. Lana dropped Piotr off beside a riderless horse and soared back into the sky. Setting her sights on the blazing roofs nearby, an idea came to mind. She began an incantation to open a vortex to the Plane of Fire, through which a spirit was drawn to the Prime Plane. It coalesced into a towering pillar of fire, well over twenty feet tall. The men of Karameikos gave cries of alarm as the elemental emerged onto the open street, but cheered as it began to consume trolls one at a time within its burning self.

Piotr meanwhile had mounted his steed and redoubled his attack on the inhuman monsters that besieged the town. The 7th Militia's attack was clinical and efficient – Piotr couldn’t help but admire the tactical mind that led the army – within half an hour the troll force was smashed. The few survivors ran, howling, into the hills as the army of Karameikos let out a grand cry of victory.

Some time later, Piotr stood outside an inn, nursing a small wound on his shoulder. He looked around the town at the denizens attempted to deal with the aftermath of the battle. Many citizens of Hinmeet were dead, but many more had survived because of the Karameikans…

Lady Budanter and Captain Alverian came walking up to Piotr, the former fussing over a small wound on the arm of the latter.

”It will be fine, milady,” said Alverian as the pair stopped beside Piotr. “Grevenov,” began the Capain, “Sergeant Vaklev tells me you took command of the situation here…?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Piotr with a sinking feeling. He had not forgotten the lecture that the deputy commander had given him after their last battle. Surely more of the same was coming his way.

“Many good men died here, Piotr,” continued the Captain, “but many were saved as a result.” Justin’s eyes met Piotr’s inquisitive gaze as he nodded to the young man. “I wanted to thank you for your help – you made the right decision. Well done.”

Piotr’s eyes followed those of the Captain’s downwards, where the young warrior was surprised to see the Captain’s hand extended. Piotr took the outstretched hand and shook it firmly. With a final nod the Captain turned and set off into the town. Lady Budanter lingered long enough to give Piotr a cheery smile and an enthusiastic thumbs-up before setting off after the Deputy Commander.

Piotr smiled after the Lady Mage before sitting himself back down on his bench. As Apolvara emerged clutching two tankards of ale he returned her greeting and said “you won’t believe what just happened…”

The Wooden Tower

Following the battle, Lana was glad to see that the commanders of the Militia indulged their men with the traditions of the Night of Fire (which had snuck up on her from nowhere – she could hardly believe so much time had passed!). In the morning, the 9th Militia reached Hinmeet, along with several of the Halfling warbands that had accompanied them on the expedition. Apparently, it was decided that the 9th would lead the army from this point, in order to allow the 7th to recuperate from its recent actions. Deciding that she would remain with her new found friends in the 7th, the young mage waited as her preferred division broke camp, then once again packed up her belongings and willed her magic carpet into the sky.

The army’s course took it back downhill over the next couple of days, the road winding and weaving as it approached the beginning of the great Streel plain. Lana watched from her lofty perch as the low foothills parted revealing the broad expanse of the Streel River flowing nearby. Encouraged by the sight, Lana spurred her magic carpet to a greater speed, and set off to scout the area ahead of the army. “I suppose I should have asked the General first,” thought the young wizardess as her carpet picked up speed, “but I can take care of myself, and I’m sure he’ll thank me when I report back!”

Swooping down towards the plain, Lana’s heart soared for a moment with the sheer joy of flight. She indulged herself with a few acrobatic feats, carefully practicing the aerial tricks she was seeking to master. In no time at all Lana reached the point where the road encountered the great river and then turned to run parallel, almost directly north to Darokin City itself. Lana was, however, not paying a great deal of attention to the road, for her eyes were fixed on the opposite bank of the Streel River, where stood a wooden fortification, a tower-like building surrounded by a palisade wall. Neither the structure nor its surrounding defences had been there the last time she had passed through this area. Apprehension stole over the young mage as she edged closer to the structure, moving her carpet out over the mighty river.

To her horror, Lana beheld that giants were busily hefting great logs the size of whole trees into the river, sinking them into the riverbed, fastening them to one another – it looked as if the forces of the Master had established the tower as a riverside base, and were attempting to build a new bridge to span the Streel! The tactical ramifications of this hit Lana like a ton of bricks – if the Master’s servants were able to create a new river crossing, they would no longer be held back by the river, and would be free to carry their destructive rampage into eastern Darokin… and beyond.

Without further hesitation, Lana banked her magic carpet around and flew back to the Karameikan militia. She swooped in low, drawing alongside General Valzerian and his deputy, and, ignoring their protestations to her unannounced scouting operation, delivered a concise report of her observations.

Their complaints suddenly silenced the two soldiers faces turned pale – they too appreciated the threat that this bridge represented. “It has the potential to change the course of the war…” observed the General.

“Yes,” agreed Captain Alverian, “but what can we do about it? We can’t afford any delay in our march to Darokin, and even if we did have the time we can hardly march the army across the river, and the Streel is far too wide to use our archers.”

“Perhaps we can delay their operation,” suggested Lana. In response to the questioning looks from the two warriors she elaborated “well, I could use my enchantments to damage, perhaps even destroy what little progress they’ve made in building the bridge.”

Captain Alverian pondered for a moment, then replied “you may be on to something there, Lady Budanter. I believe I may also be of some use, if we employ the water elemental that I can summon.”

Lana’s eyes lit up. “Yes,” she proclaimed, “and I have a few tricks up my sleeves as well – we might not be able to annihilate this fort of theirs, but we can make it practically harmless by setting back their progress on building the bridge!”

So, as the army reached the river and continued northwards along the road, Lana found herself sneaking down towards the bank of the river, Captain Alverian at her side. “I had imagined a less… muddy approach,” whispered the mage as she tugged at her robes, snagged upon a bush.

“We can’t afford to use the carpet, milady,” replied the Captain, “better to ensure we have the element of surprise.”

“Takes me back to my earlier adventuring days,” muttered Lana.

In a short while the pair found themselves hunkered down on the riverbank. As far as Lana could tell, the giants on the other side of the river were paying no attention to the passing army – it was too far away for them to do anything about, after all.

With a nod, Captain Alverian uncovered his magical bowl and filled it with some water from the river. He sat down, turned to Lana and said “this will take a few moments, but it will be quite obvious when the summoning is complete. I suggest you wait until I am ready to strike.”

Lana nodded her assent, and watched as the Captain bent over the bowl. He inserted a finger into the still water and silently began to stir it in a clockwise manner. Over the course of a few seconds, the water was swirling in a small vortex, which seemed to pick up speed as Justin removed his finger from the water and redoubled his concentrarion. Lana watched with professional interest as the apparent depth of the water in the bowl grew, stretching off into infinity as the link to the Elemental Plane of Water established itself. The vortex within the bowl sank into this infinite mass of water, forming a whirlpool of impossible depth. Lana glanced over to the nearby river, and noticed that a small section of water had begun to swirl in harmony with the water in the bowl, expanding its area and intensity as time went on. Then, nearly ten minutes after Captain Alverian had begun the summoning, the water in the river bulged ominously for a second, then struck out across the span of the Streel like a rogue wave, gathering strength as it went.

The wave broke over a group of unsuspecting giants as it stood atop a raft. Instantly the raft was overturned, spilling its occupants into the river as they issued startled cries. Lana reached her hand across the river in the direction of the other giants on the riverbank, many of whom were laughing at their soaked comrades. Whispering the words of magic, she threw a veil of confusion across their primitive minds, and watched with satisfaction as several in the group stopped laughing and immediately turned to attack the other giants.

Meanwhile the water elemental had pinned one of the giants underwater. The humanoid’s hands were all that broke the surface of the river as the creature thrashed and clawed for the surface. In a few short moments the commotion subsided, and the great hands of the giant slid silently into the Streel.

The giants in the shallows that had been affected by Lana’s spell began ripping up the wooden supports of the great bridge to use as primitive clubs against their erstwhile companions. The bridge shuddered suddenly as the water elemental crashed upon the supports, tearing the wooden structure asunder. Within moments the combat had claimed the lives of several of the giants, and inflicted heavy damage upon the bridge. Lana was confident that a few more attacks from the elemental would completely destroy the structure, but before Captain Alverian could direct the elemental to redouble its assault, Lana saw a man, clad in robes, stride confidently from the wooden tower. Narrowing her eyes, Lana watched as the man pointed at the elemental and banished it back its home plane. Beside her, Justin suddenly sat upright in shock, the water in his bowl spilling out over the ground as the link to the Plane of Water was abruptly severed.

“I doubt there is much more we can do here,” said Justin, getting to his feet. Across the river, several sections of the wooden bridge groaned and collapsed as the giants continued their fight. “It looks like we’ve set them back a great deal.”

“I agree,” muttered Lana, but she was much more absorbed in watching the activity on the far bank. As the human soldiers shouted at their gigantic allies to stop their fighting, the magic user alone stood calmly on the riverbank, surveying the shore upon which Lana and Justin stood. If he saw the two Karameikans he gave no sign, but Lana couldn’t shake the feeling that those mysterious eyes were looking into her very soul…

Shortly afterwards, the pair snuck back up towards the road to Darokin, where by now the next battalion had wound its way out of the hills. Jumping on the carpet, Lana steered her magical conveyance back towards the command group at the head of the 7th Militia, where Captain Alverian reported the success of the mission. As Lana once more piloted her carpet onwards in step with the cavalry, she couldn’t help but wonder if the Master had commissioned other, similar bridges along the vast length of the Streel…

The Master’s Minions

On the morrow, the Army once again spurred itself into motion. Justin anticipated little in the way of trouble; now that his division was no longer in the vanguard he expected the 9th to clear the path, and they shouldn’t encounter too much resistance.

The terrain had flattened out considerably, and the rolling hills had given way to the forested plains of southern Darokin. The woodlands meant that the army was forced to string itself out in a longer column, as the road was bounded on both sides by thick copses of trees.

Riding at the head of the force, Justin was surprised to see a fallen tree barring their passage immediately ahead of them. This was odd, because the 9th Division would surely have cleared any such obstacle, and there had been no harsh weather to cause a mighty oak such as this to fall since they had passed through the area. Turning to General Valzerian he could see that his commander was rapidly approaching the same conclusion that he himself had come to. Not a word passed between them, but at the General’s nod, Justin quietly issued orders for his warriors to stand ready for any ambush.

As the order to halt echoed back along the army, a pair of figures rose from behind the felled tree, floating into the air upon what Justin assumed was a magical spell of some nature. Hanging unsupported several feet off the ground, the duo wore dark, almost black robes, and their heads and faces were obscured by cloth wrappings, leaving only a small gap for their malignant eyes to show through.

”Men of Karameikosss,” hissed the pair, in haunting unison, “there isss no need for you to go any further. Massster isss no threat to your landsss. You do not need to interfere here…”

With a nod at Justin, the General spurred his horse into a gentle trot. As Justin fell in beside him, he was reassured to see that Lady Budanter was hovering nearby, ready to support them if required.

“Servants of the Master” cried the General as he drew to a stop several feet from the tree, “we do not recognise your authority to bar our passage to the capital. You will stand aside and allow us to pass.”

“It would be better for you to turn back,” replied the pair of mages, “Massster hasss many alliesss in Darokin, many soldiersss…” The duo gestured behind them, and a huge, lumbering giant stepped out from the thick foliage, unfolding from a stooping position to tower over the trees. “We would not want noble men of Karameikosss to come to harm…” The giant hefted a might rock high into the air, and the assembled men of Karameikos watched as it sailed overhead in a low, graceful arc, coming to the ground with a mighty crashing in the nearby trees.

”Gentlemen,” said Justin, turning once more to the magic users, “I must reiterate our request for you to stand aside and allow us to pass. You are heavily outnumbered, and cannot hope to prevail in any conflict. See reason.”

“Reasssson? Isss it reassson to throw away your livesss for sssake of pathetic Darokin? Massster controls Darokin. You cannot hope to ssstop ussss.”

Valzerian brought his horse forward a few paces and replied, “your Master must truly fear us, if he sends such pathetic envoys to plea for us to withdraw!”

“Fear?” replied the mages, their eyes lifting in surprise and scorn, “Massster fearsss no one. But you shall have a lesson in fear, yesss?”

As the pair spoke, Justin noticed that the General slumped in his seat, and raised a hand to his head. His eyes widened for a split second before he shook his head and glared back at the pair of magic users in a defiant manner. Justin immediately surmised that his commander had been the victim of some magical attack, but had, by a combination of good fortune and his resolute will, resisted the evil magic.

“Fool!” hissed the pair in the direction of the trees to their right. Then, once again in haunting unison, the magic users raised a hand over their shoulders and gestured to the nearby giant. The monstrous creature reached down to its feet and scooped up a huge rock, hurling it at General Valzerian. Justin watched horrified as the rock crashed into his commander with terrifying force, knocking him from his horse and leaving him sprawled upon the road.

Seeing that the negotiations were at an end, Justin looked over his shoulder and shouted a warning back to the main body of the army. He locked eyes with Captain Korelan, who gave a quick nod and spurred his men forward. Turning back to face his assailants, Justin heard a voice from the concealing foliage begin to speak strange, disquieting words of magic. Before the incantation could be finished, however, Lady Budanter completed her own spell, one that Justin had seen before – immediately the plantlife came to life and doubled in size, ensnaring the hidden spellcaster and interrupting his prayer with an undignified squawking sound.

Arrows soared overhead as the army’s archers loosed their deadly weapons. Justin watched in satisfaction as their flight arced towards the magic using pair, but to his horror the arrows were diverted from their path to skitter harmlessly into the undergrowth. “Captain Alverian,” called Lana from above, “it is a spell of protection – your arrows will not harm them!”

Nodding, Justin urged his horse forward, driving Onyx hard to clear the fallen tree. However, the hurdle was just that bit too tall; his poor horse tumbled over the barrier, falling roughly to the ground on the other side, and leaving Justin lying awkwardly on top of the obstacle. Staring at the sky for a brief moment, Justin saw a large rock fly towards the army, sure to kill any poor soul that got in its way. Then, in the other direction he saw a blur of motion as Lana soared forward to attack the giant. Grimly, he recovered his wits and pushed himself to his feet.

As he rose, Justin swept his mighty two handed sword at his magic using foes. The bright blade arced towards one of the twin magicians, but Justin was left stunned when the man simply vanished as his sword made contact. As he recovered for another blow his remaining foe leered at him then stretched out a hand and spoke several words of magic. Before Justin could swing his sword again a bolt of lightning coursed from the mage’s fingertips through Justin’s body. For a second the young Captain writhed in pain; staggering backwards he nearly fell off the tree, but managed to regain his balance. Looking up, he locked his gaze with that of his opponent – from the startled expression he saw, it was evident that the magic user had not expected his victim to survive the magical attack!

Lunging forward, Justin brought his sword around in a mighty blow, catching the magic user squarely in the midriff. Shrieking in pain, the servant of the Master clutched at his side and bent double, but pointed his other hand at Justin and began to speak the words of magic yet again. This time the warrior was quicker than the mage, and he quickly brought his sword down on the magician’s neck, severing his opponent’s head in a single blow.

As the adrenaline of the fight subsided, the pain coursing through Justin’s body returned, and he staggered forward, nearly falling once more from the broad tree he upon which he stood. His thoughts swam for a moment before he regained his focus and remembered the remaining foe that yet stood. Glancing up the road, he saw that his archers were now peppering the giant with their fire, and that Lady Budanter had been busy fighting the creature. Even as he pushed himself off his lofty perch towards the fight, Justin saw Lana cast a final spell – the giant was enveloped in a miniature blizzard and howled in pain as the freezing attack extinguished its life.

With a sigh, Justin slumped back against the fallen tree. Lana drifted towards him, concern evident in her eyes; “are you all right, Captain?” called the Lady Mage. “Well, I’m alive,” replied Justin, getting to his feet, “beyond that I can’t be sure.”

Justin was relieved to find that General Valzerian wasn’t too badly injured, and that the losses from the giant’s attacks had been less than he’d expected. As he set his men to clear the fallen tree from the army’s path, both he and Lana inspected the imprisoned Hulean still trapped by Lana’s magic. The man spat at the pair as he was freed from his prison, and refused to talk to anyone. Justin ordered that he be taken as a prisoner of war; he was stripped of his only belonging – a holy symbol engraved with a sinister looking puzzle box. Lana shuddered as she inspected this artefact – surely this was the holy symbol of the Master’s mysterious patron; the first clue she had to unravel this Immortal’s identity...

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