Leaving the Sea of Shadows, the party considered repercussions and plans.
Surina contemplated the ritual, now lacking the life force of a captive mage as well as two Bronze Warder celebrants; there had been no sign that a controlling intelligence was present. Some abstruse arcane theory followed, but then Cram just said “There’s no way Paldemar isn’t going to know we’ve f***ed his ritual up,” and no one could argue with that.
But thinking about how far Paldemar’s knowledge might stretch did inspire Wjizzo with another thought. If Hasifir, the Ordinator Arcanis or another mage could initiate a contest for the control of a Bronze Warder at the same time as the heroes attacked the Shrine of Undeath, Paldemar’s attentions would be divided, which might gain the attackers a crucial edge!
They’d nearly reached the Seven-Pillared Hall when Varris detected… that they’d been detected.
Even as he whispered an alert, the elf’s companions could hear it too: the growling and yipping of pack-hunters that have scented prey. A numbers of hyenas emerged at full pelt out of the darkness to be met with readied arrows, throwing-spear, orb of magical force, and bolt of diabolic hellfire. They died like the dogs they were, the last one just getting to snap harmlessly at the hem of Wjizzo’s robe before Varris’ blades cut it down.
There were more. Wjizzo and Cram jockeyed for position, ignoring Surina’s instruction not to get ahead of her. Three hyenas were tumbled unconscious back into the darkness before Wjizzo’s wave of thunderous energy, two went down in the flames of Surina’s searing breath and Cram surged forward into the middle of the remainder, circling his huge sword to reap like a scythe. Varris came to his aid with startling speed, but his swords were luckily slower; a stray swing sailed over the hyena’s head, but high and slow enough that Cram was able to duck its path. Nevertheless it was Varris’ interposed swordblade that kept the hyena’s jaws from snapping on Cram’s thigh before the beast was dispatched.
Then arrows began to whistle out of the darkness. As Cram and Varris put down the last hyenas, the arcanists put forth light and concentrated fire on the nearer of two gnollish hunt-masters. Though it snarled defiance as their attacks struck home and shot back at Surina, it was dead within seconds. Its companion abandoned its bow, turned, and fled — breaking pace only to blow a desperate signal on its hunting horn, with what to proved to be practically the last breath of its bestial life.
“Yes! C’mon!” Cram punched the air in victory and retrieved his throwing spear, eager for more.
The distant reply to the hunt-master’s horn came in the form of a booming war-horn, followed by another, and further away a third.
Varris hushed everyone and listened hard as he stole silently forward of their lighted area. Tense moments passed as they whispered speculations regarding the foe so close to the Seven-Pillared Hall, and then Varris came pelting back. “Forget hyenas and scouts, it’s an army up there and 40-odd of them are coming our way!”
“Scouts and their beasts would catch us,” panted Surina as they ran, a veteran of gnoll-wars in the North. “And even armoured, gnolls move fast.” Moving only at the speed of the mail-clad Elana and the still-fatigued Hasifir, they had visions of being run down, turning at bay, and dying as heroes sooner than they would have wished. But Varris, self-sworn servant of the Raven Queen, did not fear death. He declared that he would stand as a forlorn hope* and hold off the gnolls, that the others might escape and carry the fight to Orcus’ minions. But he was grabbed and forced to run with the rest, and as Terrlen led them north past the roadway off to the Grimmerzhul, they realized the pursuit had ceased.
The tunnel past the former lair of Krand’s Bloodreaver hobgoblins led back to the Seven-Pillared Hall, and finding no blockade of Paldemar’s forces at the Dragon Door they made their way in and led Hasifir to rejoin the Ordinator Arcanis on the platform from which he was directing the people of the Hall to erect defences.
With the army of gnolls from the Chasm Fort holding the Road of Shadows and Az’Al’Bani’s minotaur skeletons on the Shining Road, the Mages were convinced that Paldemar’s noose was tightening upon them. Hasifir beseeched them to aid him in freeing his brother and sister Mages from the Shadow Binders in the Sea of Shadows. This had to be done before the way was closed, but would not be possible until he had rested to regain his power.
Wjizzo was inclined to agree but, as Surina pointed out, they could not hope to storm the Palace of Zaamdul by force and if the noose was tightening they had to follow the silver key to the means of reaching Paldemar before any further force laid siege to the Road of Lanterns. They wished the Mages well, but announced that they must sally forth immediately.
“We also wish you well,” boomed the Ordinator’s voice from behind his mask, “and hope that without Paldemar directing them, our enemies will withdraw. I said that you would not find the Mages of Saruun ungrateful. Take this, and may it help you in your task.” and with that he handed Wjizzo a cloth-of-gold bag containing something of irregular shape, some 12" across.