A Crimson Shore 31.2 The Wheel and the Stand

There was yelling. There was shouting. There was dying, and there was killing. There was also worse than all of these, which was watching those ensnared by the servants of Lolth get dragged back into the darkness below the rubble of the destroyed city.

While the Celns ran for the Sasser ships,  the wicked demons of Ket swarmed them. The air and heat choked them. The darkness concealed their attackers, who pursued them with all haste. Men fought with their hands, their teeth and whatever they could find strewn upon the ground. Many seemed to choose not to stop, instead they ran in fear from the vilest of foes. For these weren’t just beasts. The wicked things crawled on spider legs, they oozed like worms and they flew with dark leathery wings from the holes under the collapsed city. Those that caught their prey dragged them kicking and screaming back into the abyssal hole in the center of what was once Ferroun’s Station.

To the credit of the men and women and goodly folk that day, a semblance of order came to them, even in the chaos of these moments. Zy’an thought of the strength of will it must have taken, to have so longed been held captive, to know escape was there, but also to stop, to think. In that moment, what a force of will it must have been for each. Commander Fritz, no more than an emaciated nude form, stood in the rubble and organized his Lights into a crit-square, a common formation in Celn warfare. The men and women whooped and hollered as if they had come here to fight of their own accord. As if they were free men risking their life in battle, instead of starved prisoners clawing their way past their angry captors. It was a glorious sight to behold, if it were not so insidious as well.

The ragtag assemblage of dirty slaves moved through the beasts, the wicked claws, and jagged legs, mandibles that reached for them, together as one.  “To the ships!” Roared their commander, who had pushed his way to the front, right in the center of the thickest assault by the enemy. “By the LIght , we will not let these darkened bastards take us once more! To the ships you Celns!!!!!”

“AYE!!!!!AYE COMMANDER!!!!” Came the answer of the soldiers.  And not a few of the native peoples and the island halves joined them.  Together, they piled through rubble, and beast. No bleeding corpse, no savage beast nor giant’s hammer stopped them.

In an instant, from their view in the exit to the high priestess’ chamber, the monk watched it all. Thrak, Iricah and Frank by his side. They were bloodied, exhausted, spell-less, weak-muscled, wounded and scarred. Escape Zy’an knew might be the most dangerous of tasks they had faced that night. They were now in the center of an all out battle.

This though was no war that Zy’an had ever seen. The captured, saddened creatures that he had once spent his days and nights studying had changed into something more. These were not the slithering and lurking, jumping and clacking things he had once viewed through glass. These things that were swarming the haggard prisoners trying to escape, these are like fish thrown back into the pond he thought. What I have seen of them until now was not the strength of what these creatures really possess.  The master was right he thought. Ket is more powerful than any in the light could have foreseen.

These beasts that attacked the haggard Celns, the lizardfolk, the skeletal Ata’auh; These were no longer sad, these were no longer specimens in a jar.  They were loose upon the world of Light. Here in this small envelope of what the Darkening would one day bring, they were in their element. The thick cloud that billowed upwards from the caldera was their domain.

The monk took it all in, trying to decide on what to do. These things that shouldn’t be were indeed alive with purpose and strength. It was as if the darkness gave them oxygen to breath, or put power in the blood of their muscles.  These were the Ketians of lore.  He glanced at Iricah and Frank and Thrak. All knew it.  They were about to battle Ket itself, here in this space, if only for just the chance to make it back to their griffon steeds. If they didn’t fight their way out, they too would be dragged back into the chambers below. And right now, here, on this caldera, in this place, while smoke billowed in great plumes and the ground shook, there would be only one victory for them.  They had to get out!

Frank, whose mace was covered in gore and filth, shook the weapon aside him. “I was just about to clean this,” said the cleric.

“I was just about to clean this!” said Iricah, mimicking Frank’s motion with her shovel. She was trying to look tough, but it just wasn’t working. Out of spells, she didn’t look thrilled on the idea of what they were about to do.

Watching them, Zy’an’s head tilted a little and the edge of a smirk appeared on his face. He shook his hands out to his sides, and curled them again into tight fists.

Thrak watched them all with disgusted expression. “Why do you Celnssssss care if your weapon isss clean or not?” He sniffed the air with his great snout and pawed at the ground with his clawed feet. His axes swirled in his hands. “The ships are leaving. It’ssss time to go!”

“I am not a Celn, Thrak,” said Zy’an.

With unexpected quickness, the great reptilian mouth snarled, “No one caresss if you are Celn, monk. The only thing to care about right now isss if you can keep up with the other Celnsssss!”

With a roar, the great lizardman of the isles, Thrak Yak raged into the battle at Ferroun’s station. His friends behind him, raging too.

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“The ship will not come free, Commander!” Called a soldier from the stern.  Still under attack, most of the Celns, hundreds, perhaps thousands in number, had made it to the ships. Zy’an and the others had too. But now, they were stuck! None of the ships in fact had left at all! Although the saboteurs had prepared the ships under the guise of Sassers earlier that day, a physical gate, under the water, prevented them from leaving their mooring. The soldier turned back and watched as the monk and Thrak worked the mechanism under the ship that Fritz had boarded. Hundreds of men were on board now, fighting back the same beasts that came for them from land, and by air in the darkened cloud. It was the same with all the ships on the docks. Loaded with the escaped slaves. They had found their freedom briefly, only to have lost it here. They were doomed.

A massive explosion rocked the island, and in a fraction of an instant, great tears appeared in the ground.  Bright red crevasses oozed lava.

“The island is coming apart!” shouted Frank.

There were great plumes of smoke now erupting from fissures in the ground.  The red seams exposed liquid rock which oozed down along the shore and sizzled into the bay’s water. The heat radiated outwards in all directions. Ket itself was pouring out from the ruined city!

“Get that blasted gate out of the way!” Roared the Commander. He called to Lord Ian, who had found a sword and shield from Sasser supplies brought up belowdecks.

“My Lord, it looks like all the ships are moored in such a way! We are doomed!  We’ll be swamped soon, and taken back, or worse.” Ian was looking now over the prow and seemed to spot something through the haze. “Wait! My Lord! There! A mechanism.  That wheel, surely it is the lever!”

Fritz ran to the prow himself, dodging a small wicked creature with a needle like probiscus.  Iricah slammed the creature to the deck with her shovel, squishing it’s guts.

“It’s a release mechanism! It must be for the gate!” He spun around, taking in the battle.  All around him, the scene was motion. There was just no time for a decision to be made. Desperately, he cried out, “I need Celns of Honor now men! I need Celns of Merit and Deed!  Come with me, a dozen of you lot! We save our fellows tonight! We live on in the Flame!”

Without waiting for a response, the Commander, Lord Fritz, swung over the rails and down upon the dock.  Many of his fellow soldiers did as well. Thrak had just climbed back on board the vessel. Zy’an flung himself over the rail, in his usual fashion. They ran to stand by Frank and Iricah, who watched the Commander go over and up to the wheel.  A gigantic thing, made of metal, it sat atop the hill.

“This ship is free!” Called a soldier from the stern.  “The sails are out, make way! Make way goodly Celns!!!”

Frank breathed in far too calmly for the moment. He sighed. “None of the others will ever make it.”

Iricah exhaled. “Fritz is right, the ships will be stuck if they don’t free it.”

“I gather that Fritz will free the mechanism though,” said Zy’an. “They just will not make it back themselves. They’ll be overrun by the enemy.”

“Under sail! We’re under sail. Man your positions!” called another of the Celns. Underneath their feet, they felt the ship lurch backwards.

Iricah watched the Commander stagger up the hill. He punched and kicked, while Ian and the other haggard souls climbed their way up through the smoke and rubble. The wheel still a few yards off.

She turned to Frank and then to Thrak. A wry smile shone through the dirt and soot stuck to her face. “For Cellinor?”

Frank’s eyes flashed red.

Thrak’s nostrils flared.

“For Cellinor!” said Frank and Thrak.

At the same instant, the bard, the barbarian, and the cleric,  climbed over the rail, slid down onto the dock and ran up the hill to save the battle, the war, and just maybe all of Cellinor itself.

The monk would make it to the wheel first, and so none remembered that he had jumped not for Cellinor, but for them.

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