Trumps of Winter

07 - The Battle of Redtusk Hall

The four stand against the mad doom-cultist, and the dweller in the stone is revealed.

Kurzkov has his guards assemble, and arms and armors himself as well. As he buckles on his weapons, he tells the servants to retrieve another parcel from the trophy room. They reappear carrying a light suit of bear armor. Kurzkov explains that this belonged to an old companion of his, and he offers it to Anfisa and Kostya for their assistance. She accepts gratefully and begins strapping the plates on her bear.

The boyar chooses to wait for Ulvo’s arrival on the front stairs of the inner keep, some of his men at his side and others with bows up on the ramparts. Gennadiy advises against the boyar standing in full view, but he refuses to take cover. “I won’t hide from this traitor,” he says. Gena grudgingly accepts it, and chooses to stand near Marisky, who has also taken up arms and armor to stand with her father. Then there’s nothing to do but wait to see if reinforcements from the town or Ulvo and his cult are the first to arrive.

Regrettably, the stargazers appear first. Ulvo stands near the front of his congregation, with the fat man and thin man nearby, and Butrek looking only a little uncomfortable. The rest of his entourage is a mix of various townsfolk with a cold look in their eyes. The stargazer speaks first, in an ingratiating tone.

“My lord, I am sad to see you have let these outsiders turn you against me.”

“You have done this to yourself,” returns Kurzkov, scattering the nativity charts on the floor.

The stargazer twitches at the corner of one eye, but replies in a calm tone. “I only sought to grant your wish for a strong heir.”

“If you were honest,” rumbles the boyar, “you would have told me the cost.”

Ulvo sighs. “It seems the hour of the messenger has descended.”

And then Girinka, to her own surprise, stabs Boyar Kurzkov in the side.

Chaos breaks out. Half of the boyar’s soldiers turn on their own, and the mob surges forward. Ulvo’s voice is heard above the shouts, clear and commanding. “Capture the boyar if you can. Kill the strangers.”

Mika responds to Ulvo with a spell. She cuts his side with a bone lance, tearing open his robe and revealing a set of oddly familiar glyphs drawn on his skin. Kazimeer, up on the ramparts, throws a starbolt at Ulvo and catches the stargazer’s robes on fire. The Idiot cultist, who’d claimed to know knothing of magic, returns a bolt of celestial lightning.

Anfisa fixates instantly on the traitor Girinka, Kostya following her lead. The two immediately pin the steward down, keeping her from further injuring the bleeding boyar. As Gena steps forward to protect Kurzkov and Marisky, two of the congregation undergo an alarming change. The flesh of one bulges and hardens, gaining a metallic sheen like Kazimeer’s. The other’s clothes burn away as some sort of star-fire erupts from cracks in his skin. The star-iron possessed charges Gena, who must use his full strength to avoid being driven back by the metallic fists’ punishing blows. He stands firm, though, using his shield expertly and protecting Marisky as best he can.

Ulvo’s bodyguards, fat and thin, lunge into the melee around the steps. Rather than fight the still-loyal guards or the adventurers, they attempt to push a way for Butrek. Neither Gena nor Anfisa is free enough to intercept them, and Mika and Kazimeer have their hands full exchanging sorceries with Ulvo.

A bale ray from the burning man lashes out at Mika, but misses. She uses the opportunity to wound Ulvo again, and the glyphs continue to tug at her memory.

Some time ago, the Spider Witch of the Marshes showed Mika a straw and a basket. With a long nail, she caught the straw on fire, and the basket across the room began to burn. “You see?” she said. “The small thing holds the safety of the larger.”

Mika shakes her head. “Be careful!” she shouts. “Those glyphs on his skin — they’re tied to the stone!” Kazimeer throws another starbolt at Ulvo, whose robes continue to burn.

On the steps. Gena commands Marisky to take the potion on his belt and drink it. She reacts almost without thinking to his commander’s tone. Gena continues to fight the star-iron man, and although his shield keeps most of the harm away from him, he can’t push the metallic cultist back in time. Ulvo’s bodyguards finish clearing a path, and Butrek races into the keep.

Mika looks back and forth between the open door and Ulvo — and the decision’s made for her. The stargazer falls to the ground, still blazing with Kazimeer’s astral fire. She races into the keep, and Kazimeer follows quickly after her. Mika catches sight of Butrek, running upstairs in the direction of the boyar’s daughters’ chambers.

Anfisa slams Girinka down, knocking the last of the fight out of her without killing her. She deftly moves to catch the fat man, Kostya following her. Opposite her, Gena strikes down the star-iron cultist and moves to catch the thin man. In the grand melee, the cultists’ numbers have given them an edge over the still-loyal guards — and then the reinforcements arrive. Lorsky and his soldiers charge through the gate, with Kradovar and Radenza at their sides.

Inside the keep, Kazimeer sets his sights on Butrek. “Ulvo is dead,” he calls out. Butrek responds with a sigh — then charges Kazimeer. His attack is equal parts brutal and underhanded, and the star-mage recoils from the sudden pain. Mika supports Kazimeer with an invocation to her dread deity, then sends another bone lance at Butrek. It misses, though the shrapnel sends a few slivers to draw blood from his cheek. The warrior continues to strike at Kazimeer, who defends himself as best he can.

For all that Ulvo’s bodyguards were reputedly very dangerous men, the two find themselves gravely outmatched. Anfisa cuts apart the fat man with a flurry of precisely-aimed blows, and Gena strikes down the thin one almost simultaneously. Gennadiy rushes inside the keep, as Anfisa turns her attention back to the courtyard — in time to see a green flare rise toward the dark skies, somewhere in the direction of the stone hill.

Butrek continues to batter Kazimeer, but the sorcerer rallies. The strange dodecahedron at his wrist spins, and he plants a palm on Butrek, flooding the warrior’s bones with cold and poison. As the traitor staggers back, Mika strikes out with another bone lance. It runs right through Butrek’s skull. He drops immediately, and rolls down the main stairs to land at Gena’s feet. Gennadiy curses at his poor timing, and aims an after-the-fact kick into the corpse.

The adventurers return to the courtyard, where the surviving congregationalists are surrendering and being bound. Marisky crouches over her wounded father, keeping him safe. Mika tends to his wound with a spell.

Anfisa draws their attention to a green light reflecting on the bottom of the night clouds. They move to the gate and look out. Over the town, a blazing green serpent of unearthly fire passes back and forth, looking for something. They quickly decide it must want food — and a magical source would be best. Kurzkov orders his men to bring the captives into the keep, and the adventurers tell him to follow them in there. The four of them then step forward, and wait.

Sure enough, the star-serpent catches the “scent” quickly. It soars towards the keep in response. As it draws near, it opens its gaseous jaws, and bolts of tellurian lightning strafe the ground. Kazimeer is the only one unable to leap aside in time, receiving some scorching to his metallic skin. He sents a starbolt into it in return, as Gennadiy also launches an arrow.

The unearthly wyrm makes another pass, and then it comes in to land. It tears at Anfisa with newly-formed talons, and opens its mouth over her. She feels a powerful tug at her very life energy, but she resists the pull.

Before the serpent can close its jaws, Kazimeer throws a bolt right into them, spilling its aetheric matter in all directions. It reels — and Gena leaps forward, carving a long divide down its neck with his saber. It tries to draw a breath — and Mika fires a lance through its core, leaving a massive hole with just a few strings holding a chunk of starmetal where its heart should be. Before it can even cry out in pain, Anfisa cuts into those strings. In a matter of moments, the tellurian wyrm is reduced to a few coiling wisps of astroplasm, a stink of ozone, and a hunk of heated starmetal.

The onlookers peering through the windows of the keep stare in amazement for some time.

The next day, Kurzkov gives a speech before the town where he thanks the heroes for their timely intervention. The townsfolk who fell in battle defending Ulvo are proclaimed to have been enchanted, and Kurzkov pays a generous reparation to their families.

As it’s clear that Girinka was subject to the mind-numbing dust of Ulvo’s, her life is spared — but at the heroes’ urging, Kurzkov has her go to serve the Boyaritsa Rovina for a year and a day, to prove her loyalties and to help bolster their neighbor’s position. Mika takes the time to stress to Girinka that her admiration for Tsar Gorinstal is utterly misplaced, and she should abandon any thoughts of recommending that her boyar take the brand. In her place, they set up Marisky to act as the new steward of the household for the duration. Kurzkov formally praises his daughter for her bravery and judgment, recognizing her as his true heir. He asks Kradovar to see to her martial training, and the veteran agrees.

During the celebratory dinner, Kurzkov also approaches Gennadiy. He mentions that his eldest daughter seems quite taken with the author. “If you were to stay…” he says.

“Yes, but I must leave,” responds Gena. “Here. Give her this!” He provides the boyar with an autographed copy of his latest book.

Kazimeer takes Ulvo’s cloak, an interesting item that seems to have a small defensive enchantment of instantaneous transportation. He also loads one of the few empty spots in the Malioki wagon with the most promising materials looted from Ulvo’s chamber. Mika also takes the withered hand of Warchief Guryakin, and binds it with Ulvo’s right eye to complete her gruesome relic.

With the wagon and their saddlebags laden with gifts from the boyar — including quite a bit of Istvar’s Best — the group finally is able to set out with a clear conscience, to complete their journey to Zelezka.

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