63. Hero of Knights and Magic

Taken from Tunwéya’s notebooks:

We spent a remarkably restful night in a ruined townhouse, reflecting on our recent experiences, and ventured out afresh for High Hall (memo: when “roughing it” in ruined cities abducted into Hell, endeavour to find abandoned dwellings in the smarter part of town. My room contained an entire, unsullied pillow). The approach to High Hall, through a garden, was a delight: the current political and environmental climate of the city obviously does not encourage horticulture, but in some ways this was a bonus, as it provided an opportunity to view the formal planting beds of the garden unsullied by foliage, and the overall geometric design was extremely pleasing. I attempted to call the attention of the pseudophant Lulu to this observation, but she remained persistently vague, mumbling to herself about familiars. (Query: can sentient animals have familiars? Feel Xanthe would have known this.)

Our procession through the garden to the doors of High Hall was largely unremarkable, and we passed among the vast statues of previous rulers of Elturel, captured in various poses of nobility as they flanked what was evidently once an ornamental reflecting pool, although the effect was somewhat marred by the fact the pool is now lava. Hinnerk amused himself with antic gestures towards the statue of Thavius Krieg, and Leofric extended his powers to shape earth such that the statue of the odious man began to sag towards the lava, but otherwise all was quiet until we reached the portico of High Hall itself.

At this point, Lulu became extraordinarily excitable, insisting that she had either a) been here before, or else b) been somewhere else before, only it looked a little like this. Or possibly a lot like this, if only she could remember. The latter seems more likely, since High Hall is itself evidently ancient (Memo: check actual age of diminutive elephant. Feel Xanthe would have known this. Must make new Wizard friend). In any case, the memory (or dream) which Lulu recounted was of a man reaching for a dark-haired woman and proclaiming “Speak to me of your crusade, Yael”, to which the response was “Thank you Lord Olanthius”. While this was of admittedly minimal use in the present case (viz., we are not on a crusade, and none of us are called either Yael or Olanthius, but are instead attempting to restore Elturel to its rightful place in the world and restore the natural balance of all things), it is at least nice to see a glimmer of actual Depth in Lulu’s otherwise unceasingly cheerful eyes, and I would have been curious for further information, had events not overtaken us.

Despite my natural curiosity at Lulu’s witterings, we had little leisure for an exploration of the philosophical implications of memory loss, not least because Reya was experiencing considerable distress at the sight of the hall in something of a state of ruin, with the vast doors battered in (truly, a heart-wrenching sight considering the venerability of the wood which had given itself so nobly to their construction), and a number of fresh corpses besmirching the steps, apparently having been torn apart by huge dogs. (I considered applying my energies to a Mending spell to restore the damaged doors, but it appeared impractical in the circumstances)

Advancing a little, Reya uttered a cry of distaste as she noted that the huge interior columns supporting the vaulted roof of High Hall itself – carved, apparently to show the likeness of Torm – now instead revealed strange winged devil women. Some way beyond, inside the capacious building itself, we could see the figure of a Hell Knight, one of the fallen Hellriders of whom we have heard so much.

At first sight, I have to say, they did not cut an entirely prepossessing figure, but they had happily not yet seen us and with a little effort I was able to convince the others that they should hang back, and we would lure the villains to the (comparatively) narrow entrance to High Hall rather than attempt to assault them and their unknown companions in the open space of the Hall itself.

Accordingly, the party agreed that Lulu should flutter up a level to inspect the organ loft, and prepared to sound the instrument on my signal, so that the Hell Knights would be drawn towards the staircases into the loft itself, close by the doors, and we could fall upon them as a body.

(Note: must find opportunity to build charisma. Not convinced anybody actually listens to a word I say.)

As I drew breath to give Lulu the signal we had agreed, Leofric darted forward and attempted to utilise the spell Banishment which (he has since vouchsafed) was intended to instantly teleport the Hell Knight to an alternate plane. The end result was somewhat less impressive, in that the Banishment merely caused the Hell Knight to saunter in our direction. Acting quickly, I sent an arrow speeding towards the monstrosity as I yelled for Leofric to pull back: the Hell Knight reacted with annoyance as the arrow pierced his shoulder; Leofric acted with wilful deafness, holding his ground and firing off an eldritch blast as Hinnerk took it upon himself to dash forwards, and invent a new plan entirely of his own, in which he chose to flee from the developing combat and gallivant up the staircase to the organ loft in search of our wayward elephantette.

From this inauspicious start, the situation became increasingly chaotic as a variety of hell hounds surged in about our feet – at truly remarkable speed, as well as at great cost to myself, a second and then a third Hell Knight appeared on the scene – bearing truly appalling evil longswords whose wounds appear to cause catastrophic damage unless one has extreme good forture – and from above Lulu abandoned her duties of organ-sounding (admittedly, by then redundant), and instead began shrieking that she’d discovered a man concealed behind the organ. At one point I found myself holding the ground alone, while everyone else – one could argue rather belatedly – hit upon the idea of withdrawing to the natural chokepoint formed by the doors, and for a moment things were looking decidedly grey, an interesting effect which I attribute largely to losing what seemed to be all but the last two gills of my blood across the floor of High Hall. (Memo: I am unconvinced that I am suited to holding the line entirely unaided by my companions. Must make new Orc friend.)

Fortunately, I was able to slip from the literal jaws of death with a carefully-placed Freedom of Movement spell, just as Hinnerk finally bethought himself to return to the main event, and Reya was able to restore my failing strength enough to make it through the rest of the battle.

That battle, surprisingly, ended with something of a truce: the third, as yet undefeated Hell Knight gestured furiously at Reya and demanded we “give her to us” (that is to say, to the Hell Knights, not to us with whom she already was) and “this can all be over”, although I suspect he intended to refer to the battle rather than the entire “Elturel is trapped in Hell” situation we are nominally seeking to resolve. Receiving only a further Eldritch Blast from Leofric in response, however, the remaining Hell Knight vanished.

Searching those bodies of the Hell Knights I alone the others helped me we had now lying at our feet, we discovered some papers ordering them to patrol High Hall and then proceed to destroy the Demonic Portal in the graveyard, while Hinnerk retrieved the human Trevik who had been the one hiding behind the organ. He had been – he claimed – on watch when the Hell Knights attacked, and was eager to return to the crypts beneath High Hall. Equally loathe to remain in the open, we followed him to the as-yet-still sanctified Altar of Torm, which he approached and revealed a concealed passage leading down into this stairwell where I sit, taking a moment to record our latest encounter in the hope that honest reflection might give my somewhat quavering pulse time to recover. (And indeed, give my companions time to recover, as well, since we none of us escaped that encounter unscathed despite the ample cover available by the doors).

Should this journal be discovered later on my corpse (as currently seems highly probable), please forward it, if possible, to the scribes at Candlekeep, whom I entrust to use any monies found on my person to fund the publication of a brief monograph based upon my own adventuring experiences, to be called on ‘Tunwéya On Tactics, or, The Strategic Benefits Of Druidic Intelligence: Information For The Impetuous On The Importance Of Accepting Input From Colleagues Of Impressive Wisdom,’ for which there is a clear need among members of the mercenary classes, warlocks, and wayward sailors. (Note: as recompense for your kindness in accepting this posthumous commission I will that you should receive fully one fifth the profits of the sales of said monograph, less the usual production expenses).

In the meantime, I shall continue our impetuous investigations, and will take the minor precaution of carrying my notebooks in waxed cloth so as to minimise the risk of my own gore sealing the pages together when I am inevitably struck down in our next encounter.

I only pray that the crypts beneath High Hall have a reasonable supply of coffee, somehow. I have not had a cup of coffee since before we came to Elturel, and on top of that my supplies of cigars is dwindling sharply. (Query: Reflecting on the lack of coffee appears to have increased my already growing sense of vexation and ill-use significantly. Is there some beneficial element contained in the drink which aids in moderating temperament? Must investigate further. Require more coffee beans.)

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