“Wait, aren’t you …”
“It’s the guy from the Aspis Consortium!”
“Don’t listen to him! It’s a trick!”
Alphonse grimaced. “Your mistress, Sheila Heidmarch, sent me. She needs you back in Magnimar immediately.”
“Why would she send you to get us?” Scratchy demanded.
“Because she couldn’t find you herself, and she knows I am exceptionally good at scrying,” Alphonse responded. “All I needed was something of special meaning to you.” And with that he pulled from his pouch the rune-covered box with no lid that they opened in their first meeting with Sheila.
Zelcor regarded the box for a moment before saying, “Um, what’s that? I don’t know! I certainly don’t how to open it!”
“I still don’t believe you!” Scratchy insisted.
“Fine,” scoffed Alphonse, “now that I’ve found you, she can come get you herself!” and with a flash of teleportation magic, he was gone.
The party glanced at each other uncertainly. “Do you think he was telling the truth?” Helanda asked, “We were hard to find, in the Mage’s Sanctum … thing.”
“Wait a minute,” Theodora declared, “We’ve recovered crystal balls; we can find the truth out easily!”
She pulled out the purple orb they’d found in the temple in Leng, and concentrated on Sheila. Almost immediately, an image came into view: Sheila arguing vigorously with Alphonse as city guardsmen rushed about nearby them. If Theodora listened intently, she could hear some of the conversation as well.
“They’re your people,” Alphonse was saying, “You go get them!”
“I’m a little busy right now,” Sheila spat back, “anyway, you’re the wizard!”
Theodora decided to end the argument by speaking into the ball, “Sheila,” she asked, “What’s going on?”
Sheila started, as people usually did when contacted magically, but quickly recovered when she realized what was happening. “We need you back in Magnimar,” she responded, “The city is under attack, and it’s got something to do with you!” And with that she turned away and began directing the guardsmen around her.
Theodora looked at Scratchy, who looked at Milacent, who looked at Zelcor, who looked at Helanda, who shrugged and said, “I guess we go back?”
With that decisive declaration, everyone sprang into action. Whatever was going on, there was clearly a fight waiting for them. Theodora and Zelcor cast their preparative magics, and when they were done, the flash of a Teleport spell brought them back to Magnimar.
The scene that greeted them was one of utter chaos, with city guardsmen, Pathfinder Society operatives, and members of the Aspis consortium rushing to man a makeshift barricade. Scratchy, curious, scrambled to the top of it and saw hundreds of strange spiderlike creatures rushing through the streets. He thought they looked familiar, then realized what they were: shriezyx, the creatures which they had barely defeated to obtain the Shard of Greed, seemingly a lifetime ago, underneath the Crow.
Sheila strode up to the party to apprise them of the situation. “It started last night,” she began, “a giant wave came in off the sea, then this creatures started coming out of the ocean, while these … things came pouring out of the Irespan. We think we’ve got it under control but … ” she was interrupted by a large explosion somewhere to the south, with pieces of an ancient monument hurtled high into the air, “as you can see, the situation keeps changing.” She looked to the barricade, then back to the party. “I think we can hold them off here, but we don’t have any forces to spare. Can you go see what that is?” she asked, gesturing to the site of the explosion.
“We’re on our way,” Zelcor announced, and gathered everyone around him to Dimension Door to the site.
When they arrived they found another horde of shriezyx charging through the street as citizens fled in terror. Among those citizens, they spied a familiar face: Natalya Vancaskerkin, from whom they’d recovered the Shard of Pride, running alongside another of the Tower Girls and holding a baby.
As part of their preparation before teleporting the party had cast Fly spells on everyone, and Helanda and Milacent immediately took to the air and rocketed toward the shriezyx, Helanda taking up position to shield Natalya, and Milacent flying directly into the center of the horde.
What followed was an awe-inspiring display of power. Where once two of these creatures had come close to annihilating the party, Milacent now struck down 5 of them within seconds of contact. Helanda easily shrugged off the ones attacking her, striking them down as Natalya made good her escape. Zelcor cast a spell, and the earth beneath several of the shriezyx began to move, grabbing at them as if it were hungry for their flesh.
“Hungry Earth spell,” Zelcor announced, “Do you like it?”
“Oh yes,” Scratchy replied, and then used a little ranger magic of his own to call a rain of stones upon several more of the enemy.
Natalya, now safely in the clear, handed the baby to the other Tower Girl, who promptly took it and fled. Natalya herself, however, stayed behind. She looked on in awe at the power of her old “friends”. She did wonder, however: Where was Theodore, and who was this strange woman in the skimpy clothes?
Before anyone could explain Theodore’s new identity to Natalya, the battle shifted. A building collapsed inward upon itself, and out of the ground where it had been a gigantic shriezyx came burrowing out of the ground. Milacent flew in to strike it, but it lashed out at her causing her to stumble back onto the ground. She was still wearing the strange black mask they had acquired from the demilich; Theodora had identified it as a Nightgaunt Mask. Now she lifted it up and shouted to Theodora, “Help! I’m poisoned!”
The monster’s moment of triumph, however, was short-lived. Helanda closed in, parrying aside its attacks and slashing at it repeatedly. Scratchy fired arrow after arrow into the beast while Zelcor and Theodora attacked with magic. Soon the giant shriezyx, like its smaller brethren, lay dead upon the ground.
Natalya, unfortunately, had little time to admire the spectacle. As the party gathered around the giant corpse she ran up to them and implored breathlessly, “Please, you have to go to the docks. The things … they’re killing everyone, and no one will help them because they’re busy defending the rich folk further inland.”
Scratchy was about to ask what kind of reward they could possibly get from poor people, but he was overtaken by events as Zelcor cast the Dimension Door spell to bring everyone to the docks. When they arrived they found the whole area flooded to a depth of about two feet, and the crash of a collapsing building alerted them to the nearby presence of the ‘things’ Natalya had mentioned.
Milacent started off toward the sound but found her weapon heavy in her hand. “The poison’s weakened you,” Theodora said, “hold on until I can heal you.”
Milacent nodded, unable to speak with the Nightgaunt Mask on her face. Still, she hoped Theodora would be quick about it, as she was eager to engage in battle.
In the meantime, Scratchy and Zelcor both took to the air to get a better look at whatever was rampaging through the docks. Smashing through the buildings and murdering anyone who couldn’t get away were three giant metal creatures that resembled nothing so much as enormous mechanical eels with paddle-like limbs. Slightly behind them was a fourth creature, this one with the upper body of a beautiful woman, but a lower body of snapping wolf heads and writhing tentacles. “Hmmph,” Scratchy said, “I was expecting sea monsters.”
“Whatever they are, they’re close enough together to catch in a cone of acid,” Zelcor answered, and with that he let loose said cone of acid, scarring all three of the eel-like monsters but leaving the woman-wolf-tentacle thing curiously unscathed.
“Immune to acid, eh?” Scratchy proclaimed, “I bet you’re not immune to arrows!” He then proceeded to fly past the ‘woman’, firing arrows all the way, before ducking down behind one of the remaining buildings. It was a good thing he did, for the eel monsters all raised their heads and fired jets of scorching steam at the only target they could see, Zelcor. “Aiee!” the gnome shouted as the blasts struck, then ducked down behind a building, out of the line of fire.
Milacent saw this happen just as Theodora was finishing up restoring her strength. She made ready to attack but Theodora stopped her again. “Let me cast an Enlarge spell on you,” she said, “that way you’ll be able to stand in the middle of them and hit them all!” Milacent reluctantly stopped and waited for her to cast the spell.
Helanda, on the other hand, was waiting for nothing. She charged into battle and shattered one of the already-damaged eel-like leviathans. The other two moved to strike her, as did the ‘woman’, but her armor protected her well, and soon she was slashing at them too.
Milacent heard all this, then saw Zelcor rise back over the buildings to fire magic spells into the melee. The twang of Scratchy’s bow also rang through the air, accompanied by various screechings of mechanical beasts and the howl of strange wolves. She turned to Theodora and motioned for her to hurry it up, but spells took time, impatience notwithstanding. Finally she was done, and Milacent zoomed into battle. Except when she got around the buildings to reach where the creatures were, all she found was Helanda standing amidst the wreckage of the eel creatures, and the corpse of the ‘woman’. The eerie calm that had suddenly descended was broken by Milacent ripping the Nightgaunt Mask from her face and shouting “Noooooo!” into the sky.
Scratchy was chuckling at the sight when he heard a stirring at his feet. Looking down, he saw that the woman-wolf-tentacle creature was not quite dead yet. “You have not won,” it said, “This was only the beginning: the army has just begun to muster. Soon there will be more. Many, many more.”
“Well, I may not have won,” Scratchy responded, “but you have most definitely lost.” And to punctuate his words he shot it with one more arrow.
With the attacking forces largely defeated, the party made their way back to Heidmarch Manor. There they were surprised to find Augustille, the oracle troll from Kaer Maga, rocking back and forth and chanting in Aklo.
“He showed up several days ago,” Sheila explained, “Saying the same thing over and over again: ‘The dead king, the mad king, the risen king has come! Thassilon is reborn, and the king seeks his crown, but it shall be his undoing!’ We figured the crown was the shards reassembled into the Sihedron, so we tried to contact you guys but couldn’t find you until now. We weren’t sure about the other parts until the wave struck last night. Ships coming into the harbor have reported an island rising out of the sea, about a hundred miles to the west of Magnimar, if this is what he means by Thassilon reborn, then …” she couldn’t quite finish, the implications were too horrible.
Scratchy realized that last night was also the time they had defeated the ghost trying to take the shards away of from them. “But we killed that guy! Um, I mean, we had nothing to do any of this – we were far away!”
“Um, perhaps I can add a little something?” a new voice began. It was Andel Gesseran, Sheila’s chief scribe again. “I think that Xin, the King of Thassilon that the Runelords betrayed, has been calling the shards to him: that’s the source of all the coincidences causing the shards to be found and reunited after ten thousand years. I think his vengeful spirit has been preparing for its return, and now it feels it’s ready. The crown is the last thing he needs for the Thassilonian Empire to truly be reborn.”
“But … we … killed … him?” Scratchy repeated.
“We defeated him, but we probably didn’t destroy him completely,” Theodora answered, “not a powerful spirit like that. We’ll probably have to go to that island and destroy his bones or something.”
“Agreed,” Andel said, “but first,” and he took a deep breath, “I think we should reunite the shards.”