They stood in the dim light of the cave, their faces smeared with blood, soot and dirt. The battle with the demon lord Chernovog and his witch coven had gone quickly – almost suspiciously so – yet the demon lord’s aspect was banished and the witches were dead, their bodies strewn about the ruins some fifty feet above their heads.
“So this is it then,” observed Uther, taking in the runic circle before them. “The Mountain Fane, and last of Strahd’s links to the land.”
Tanya shivered as she eyed the ancient runes. “Have they all looked so… wrong?”
Uther considered the powerful magic site before him. Although he’d never noticed it before, the runes seemed to shift subtly as he looked at them, giving him a distinct sense of unease.
“The girl is correct,” noted Malakai, missing Tanya’s baleful glare. “These were once places of great holy power. Strahd’s corruptive influence is evident to anyone with even a slight appreciation of such things.”
Huge sucked at a tooth and scratched himself. “So, are we gonna bury this thing or what?” He poked at the body of Baba Zelenna that lay in a twisted pile of limbs at Malakai’s feet. “Only it stinks of dead in ‘ere.”
The party got to work, digging in the loose dirt inside the fane. At the bottom of the pit they found a small reliquary, of similar dimensions and appearance to the two they had discovered at the previous two fanes. They dumped the hag’s body unceremoniously in the freshly dug grave and covered her.
As before there was no obvious result, but a subtle change in the air marked the sudden absence of power that once permeated the cave. Abruptly, the runestone in the centre of the circle cracked and flaked, revealing a small stone that glowed scarlet and blue.
“Ah, of course,” said Vampensh as he reached for the glowing spherical stone. “Another of these ioun stones.” He pocketed the small magical artifact and handed the one he already had to Uther. “Here, you’ll have more use for this one than me. This new one feel much more appropriate. I can already feel my mind expanding.”
“Look at this, my friends,” called Malakai. He squatted on the ground, the reliquaries from the three fanes in front of him. The devas, solars and planetars engraved on the lids seemed to writhe with malevolent intent, the tiny drops of blood in their eyes quivering and glowing slightly. Malakai pushed the containers around, observing the results. “See, if they get closer together they agitate futher.”
“Uh, Malakai? Are you sure you should be doing that?” asked Haradrim hesitantly. “The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, and you know what that means.”
“I’m doubt your professional experience extends to items of religious significance,” dismissed Malakai. “Acute as it may be. Now, lets see what happens when I push them together.”
The three reliquaries hummed with power and abruptly snapped open, their once-holy contents floating of their own accord towards each other.
The party members standing closest to Malakai took an almost subconscious step back from the distracted cleric, hands gripping their weapons a little tighter.
The saintly artifacts danced in the air, spinning closer together as a low hum filled the air. Haradrim rolled his eyes.
“I knew this couldn’t end well,” he muttered, and cast mirror image on himself.
The artifacts hummed louder and spun faster, glowing with a sickly energy. With an abrupt flash they combined, animating into a shambling humanoid creature before them. The blighted relic stood up in the light of Grul’s glowing rock. It appeared to be little more than a shifting mass of teeth and bone with a single eye staring out of what passed for a head.
The relic expelled a terrible breath that enveloped the party. As soon as it hit them, they reeled with shock, overcome by unholy sickness. Uther and Malakai were especially badly effected by the unholy breath, doubled over and dry heaving in its wake.
Vampensh retaliated first, extending a finger and blasting the blighted relic with a ray of necrotic energy. It stumbled but responded quickly, shrugging off a swipe from Malakai’s silver sword and disrupting Grul’s evocation.
Huge grinned, wondering which of the relic’s many teeth he’d add to his necklace. With a cry he swung his axe down, the wide blade biting deep into the creature’s torso. It gave an inhuman snarl, its eye narrowing on its attacker, and lashed out at Huge with a limb bristling with razor sharp bone. The half-orc staggered backwards, staggered by the vicious attack.
A pair of firey rays struck the blighted relic from behind, only to be absorbed into it’s barely singed bulk.
Vampensh looked at his hands in momentary confusion. “This thing can take whatever I can conjure!” he said in horror. He waved Tanya back to the short drop they had climbed down from. “You’d better get out of here.”
“Concurred!” replied Malakai as he thrust his blade ineffectually at the creature.
“My own efforts – hells!,” added Grul as he summoned a pair of diminuative fire elementals, only to see one get swept away moments later.
Huge grunted as the relic lashed out with a devastating blow. “Do I have t’ do everything?” he shouted as he parried the relic’s flailing limbs. “Where’s Uther and his shiny sword?”
“He’s down,” Vampensh called back as rushed to the aid of the violently ill paladin. He drew a pair of potions from his back and uncorked them, pouring the contents down Uther’s throat.
The blighted relic snarled and whirled, easily fending off hesitant attacks from Malakai and Grul. The remaining fire elemental gibbered madly and hurled itself ineffectually at the monsterous creature. The relic turned and batted it away with a vicious swipe.
In that brief moment, Huge saw his chance. With a loud cry he lashed out with his greataxe, the wide horizontal sweep whistling through the air and lancing through what passed for the blighted relic’s neck. As its head dropped to the ground, the relic’s body quivered and staggered forward.
For a moment, it looked like the decapitated creature would actually retaliate; Huge held his axe tightly watched warily.
The perverse being swayed and finally dropped to the ground, exploding into a shower of dust and bone fragments at it fell. As the detritus rained to the floor, the party felt a change in the air, as if a great sickness had been lifted from the area. As theh last of the blighted relic dissapated into the ground, they could just make out a faint sigh of relief on the edge of hearing.
Huge breathed out slowly and sank to the ground. “I dunno ‘bout you fellas,” he said slowly, “but I’m stuffed.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Somewhere in the pits of hell, Baba Zelenna toiled in agony. The emerald fires that engulfed so much of the plane were now far beyond simply being an anathema to the hag’s tortured soul. The very sight of their hideous green light sent her into spasms of revulsion – when the plane’s demon lord wasn’t occupied inflicting all manner of flesh-rending horrors upon her.
She knew so much torture. The Green God Chernovog saw to that personally, ensuring that Baba Zelenna suffered agony after agony for her abject failure to her former master. Time had little meaning to her down here, it was just pain followed by pain. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but always present.
Now the demon lord himself loomed over her, a twisted smile of satisfaction on his dark writhing features as his minions once again wracked her body with suffering. Her body was torn and ragged from his ministrations, her flesh hanging loosely from broken limbs, blood bubbling from the innumerable slices and punctures that perforated her face and torso.
Chernovog hissed with pleasure and leaned forward, lightly brushing Baba Zelenna with a shadowy limb. She winced as her wounds healed and her shattered limbs fused and reformed. The Green God’s thoughts wormed through her mind like rot through wood.
I hope you are enjoying my hospitality. I do so enjoy your company. He leaned in closer, firey eyes piercing every part of Baba Zelenna’s mind. And we have so. Much. To discuss…
Chernovog leaned back and laughed deeply before reaching out and sending a thousand razor sharp vines shooting towards her body. Baba Zelenna shut her eyes and looked away, waiting for the horrible impact of the demon’s attack.
It never came.
As she opened her eyes, Baba Zelenna saw the fires of Cherovog’s home plane burning bright with his fury, the demon lord himself broadcasting his fury, hurling fire, ash and dark magics at some unseen foe.
NO! The hag is mine by right! Her soul belongs here, clenched in my fist!
Although she knew she should be afraid, Baba Zelenna felt nothing but peace, warmth and comfort. A soft glow crept over her vision, and the hellish pit before her began to fade and retreat.
The hag was yours, demon. That shell, however, is now shed; the child beneath is mine. I claimed her, and her sisters, long ago…
Memory, long since lost to the ravages of time and corruption, flared in Baba Zelanna’s mind. Images of a young girl, devoted to her god, bound to a place of power, bound to the land. A calling. A promise.
She looked down at her body, watching as her hag-like form peeled and crumbled away a cheap paint, revealing her true form – human, pink and serene.
You cannot take her – she is sworn to me, vengeance is my right! She will feel my power, my decay yet!
Chernovog’s rage seemed a lifetime away, barely a whisper in her ear. She looked upwards and saw her sisters, once twisted and corrupted as she was, now smiling and serene as they flanked a being of familar warmth and grace.
Return to me, lost one. Return to nature’s embrace.
Baba Zelenna reached upwards, feeling a gentle breeze buoying her upwards. Her cracked lips parted, and were immediately wetted with cool, refreshing moisture.
“My… my god…”