The Devil of Amaranth

By Deuce Traveler

Chapter Five

A steady stream of soldiers ran past Deuce, and he could still hear screams of the dying coming from the cavern. Esk was in a defensible position. Those soldiers could only come at her one at a time in the narrow tunnels. Deuce knew that not many could hope to equal Esk’s skill with a sword, but that woman didn’t realize that she was mortal. The rogue hoped his friend had the sense to leave before she exhausted herself past the ability to run.

Deuce was now in the throne room, at the end of the corridor when a procession emerged from a stairwell. A tall, dark haired man in a full beard was in the center of the group, flanked by guards in plate mail. He looked immensely displeased as the procession turned and started walking towards the caverns. The rogue saw the man’s golden crown and rich clothes and realized he was staring at the King of Doom, Ragnatoth. Watching the procession continue past him, Deuce thought, "At least I can say I got to see a king after this mess."

The rogue found three doors in the room and cursed. Rothor told him there would be a door to go through at the end of the corridor, but he didn’t mention two others. Choosing a door, he opened it and slipped inside.

The room was dark, but his eyes told him he was in a bedroom. Realizing that this was probably not the room to the vault he began to slip back out when a feminine voice called out to him, "Is that you, deary?" An hourglass figure slipped out of the bed and slinked over towards the rogue. He smelled wine on her as she approached him and purred, "I was hearing shouting outside and it ruined all my lovely dreams I was having. Is anything wrong? Wait, you’re not the king!"

Deuce was on her in a second, slipping his hand over her mouth, picked her up, and fell on the bed with her in an attempt to subdue her. She bit hard into his hand and scratched at his skin with long fingernails, drawing blood. The large rogue swore softly, and bluffed, "Behave! I’d hate to have to hurt you."

The woman finally settled down, and Deuce was able to get rope from his pack and begin to tie her to the bedposts. "Ow," the woman complained, "Not so tight!" Deuce ignored her as he cut her bed sheets to make a gag. She tried to scare him away, "Dog, you can have your way with me, but know the king will never rest until he hunts you down."

Deuce looked down upon her in amazement and laughed in disbelief, "You think I traveled all this way, snuck into Doom, and fought my way through numbers of soldiers so I could ‘have my way with you’. Lass, you’re amazing." He finished by gagging her, then, out of curiosity, lit her lamp by the bed. Her form took his breath away. She wore a white nightgown that left little to the imagination, had beautiful raven black hair with white dyed streaks, bright blue eyes, and wore a sapphire necklace on her fabulous bodice that made her even more breathtaking. The sapphires even matched her eyes. "I take it back, you’re almost worth going into Doom for. It must be good to be the king." She looked at him, no longer in fear, but now with curiosity as she examined him back, her thoughts her own. "Well, my dear, I must leave you, but first this is for biting me." Deuce turned her over and spanked her on the bottom, causing her to groan in anger into her gag. However, when she looked up at him there was now amusement in her eyes that made him regret that he was about to leave her. And what he was going to do next. "And this, is for insulting me by calling me a rapist," he lectured her as took her sapphire necklace from her neck. Placing it gently into his pack, he stood up to go. She writhed in anger, hateful eyes burning into his back as he left the room.

The corridor was empty and he stepped through the next door. This large room looked more promising and there was a stairwell leading up through a trapdoor in the ceiling. Quietly padding over to the trapdoor, the rogue lifted it slightly, peered around the sides, and seeing no one slipped in. He sighed heavily as he found four steel doors, and cursed dwarves under his breath. This place was becoming a maze, and Esk’s distraction would only buy him so much time. Deuce prayed for good luck, picked the lock on a door he chose at random, and walked into the room. The door locked and closed behind him, and when he turned he realized there was no lock or handle on this side. "Great. I wonder what they are trying to keep inside," he wondered.

He stepped into a large chamber, in which hung a grand chandelier. Tattered banners of kingdoms long forgotten hung from the walls. Corpses of old adventurers littered the floor, and a motionless giant, gray statue stood in the center of the room, wielding an enormous axe, hanging limply by it’s side. The rogue was certain it was a statue since the thing should have attacked by now, and he had never heard of any creature so ugly. Also, the gray skin was an unnatural color and the same shade as its crafted armor. As Deuce approached quietly and examined the statue, he was amazed at its workmanship. The gray skin of the grotesque humanoid was so well carved he thought he could make out patches of body hair, and the armor plates looked like they were battle scarred. "Heh. It even smells alive," Deuce thought. "Wait... smells alive? Oh, bloody hell."

Deuce dropped to his knees as the creature embedded its axe halfway into the wall above his head. The rogue rolled forward, the dagger in his left hand slicing a gash under the gray humanoid’s knee as he came up standing and ran past it. He quickly ran into a far corner, turned, and ran along the wall, trying desperately to get some space to think of a plan in these cramped confines. The creature was fast for its size and caught up to the rogue, swinging his axe again. Deuce could hear the rippling of air as the mighty, enormous axe tore through the atmosphere and low behind him. He leapt up and began to run a few steps high along the wall, seeing the axe skid against the wall underneath him. Sparks from the ricochet lit the room. The rogue fell back to the floor. He changed directions and ran behind the gray giant, pulling a grappling hook and rope out of his pack. Swinging the hook upwards, he connected with the chandelier, and barely climbed out of the reach of the giant.

The humanoid was at least somewhat intelligent, as proven by its baiting of the rogue, and it simply grabbed the rope and yanked with all its strength. The chandelier broke off where it was connected to the ceiling, bringing itself, Deuce, and large rocks from the ceiling falling with it. The chandelier glanced off the giant’s shoulder and clambered to the floor. Large rocks fell onto its head, making a bloody gash along its forehead, and dazing it. Deuce wrapped himself into a ball as two rocks shattered just a few feet away from where he fell. The rogue prayed to the fates that the humanoid had an Achilles tendon like a human does. Before the giant could recover, Deuce ran behind it and plunged both daggers deep into where a man’s Achilles tendon is known to be. It worked. The creature’s right leg gave out when its Achilles tendon was severed and it fell over with a crash of armor and a loud howl, but kicked Deuce against a wall in the process.

"Got to get up," Deuce murmured to himself. He found himself staring at the shattered skeleton of an adventurer wondering if the dead man had similar thoughts before his death. The creature began to crawl towards the rogue, its lame leg dragging behind it. Deuce knew he had to get up, but his head swam and his world went black.

He woke in pain to a large hand wrapped around his waist that was squeezing his breath from his lungs. His gleaming daggers were still embedded in the creature’s leg, and his hammering fists had no effect on the creature. It grinned at him as it squeezed harder, and Deuce screamed as his ribcage gave. He couldn’t breathe, though the force of his will kept him conscious and fighting. The rogue thought of how his failure meant Rothor’s failure, and his friend would never be remembered in the history books as the hero he should be.

His hand fell, and scraped the ground. Then it was if a skeletal fist was in his hand. Deuce turned his head to look into the eye sockets of the grinning skeleton next to him. The skeleton’s hand rested inside the rogue’s palm. In the skeletons hand was a three foot long cutlass, and as Deuce grabbed its pommel in desperation, the hand seemed to let the cutlass go, surrendering it to a new champion. With a scream from the remaining breath in his lungs, Deuce turned the cutlass in his hand and drove half its length through the gray giant’s neck and into its body. The humanoid howled in fear and pain, slamming the rogue into the wall. Deuce felt his head crack against the wall, his blood and pain bringing him back to reality, and he leaned against the pommel and drove the cutlass into the giant to the hilt. The humanoid made one last howl that shook the entire fortress, deep and forlorn, before its death rattle.

Chapter Six

Deuce’s head spun as he painfully stood up. After catching himself on a banner, he walked to the creatures axe and examined it. It was an ancient two-handed weapon (easily one handed for a giant), of superb dwarven construction, with the seals of the ancient kingdom of Rannon on the sides of the blade. The rogue's hands began to shake in spite of him. The Axe of Dowwin was a beautiful weapon. He felt bliss in the realization that he had not yet failed his heroic friend. Using the remains of his rope to tie a carrying loop around the Axe, he swung it over his shoulder and then retrieved his daggers from the dead giant.

The rogue examined the cutlass in his hands. It was also finely made, with the letters E.S.M. engraved on the blade in gold. Deuce wondered if that was the owner’s initials. He pulled a banner from the wall and laid the skeleton onto it. Either by some mystic design or accident, this explorer had saved Deuce’s life, and he would be damned if he was going to leave him here. The rogue noticed a cloak clasp on the skeleton’s shoulder with the symbol of the evening star engraved on it. Realization hit Deuce suddenly as he examined the clasp. The skeleton was a member of the Evening Star Mercenaries, a mercenary guild that had been hunted into extinction more than a decade ago by the demon, Zeth. Ten years ago the ship of those mercenaries, the SS Vesper, left its harbor in Elwyn and had not been seen since. Still holding the clasp, Deuce thought to the skeleton, "Whoever you are, you saved my life, and the least I can do is have you buried."

A few moments later an angry voice sounded in the rogue’s head, "Is that some kind of threat? Identify yourself, mercenary! I swear, I don’t know what type of mercenaries they're training these days, but..."

Deuce jumped back, letting go of the emblem. The voice in his head stopped immediately. Experimentally, he grabbed the clasp again and the voice continued, "...hello? See, this is the problem with recruits. First time one of my boys decides to contact me for ages, and he can’t even take a bit of a healthy berating."

"Who are you? Are you stuck in this emblem?"

"Who am I? I’m Captain Yor, proud master of the beautiful SS Vesper, and you’re obviously a dirty thief if you don’t recognize a simple Evening Star scryer."

Deuce thought he heard metal boots on stones and figured the guards must be starting their patrols in the corridors again. He concentrated his thoughts back into the clasp. "Damn, why does everyone think I’m a thief? I’m a fingersmith, and the only reason I’m holding this scryer is because I found the body of one of your mercenaries. I was going to take him back to Riversy to be buried if I can get out of this damn fortress."

Yor’s ‘voice’ sounded sullen, "One of my boys died? Which one? Was it that self-proclaimed snake god, Zeth, who did him in? He promised if I fled Elwyn he wouldn’t hurt any of them."

Deuce was amazed that Yor didn’t know. The mercenaries made many enemies and when the SS Vesper left they either went into hiding, joined other guilds, or were hunted one by one into extinction. "I don’t know who this man was. I’d say he’s been dead for years, but we are near Miramor and not near Zeth’s temple on the island of Tiraca."

"Very well. Let me ask you a favor, one old mercenary to another. I’m going to cast a gate spell, having magically fixed your position. When it opens, can you push his corpse through? An Evening Star Mercenary deserves a burial at sea, and I wish to say goodbye."

"I will do this, but not for you. Your mercenary saved my life and it’s the least I can do in return."

"Saved your life? I thought you said he’s been dead for years?"

"He has been. It’s a complicated kinship." Deuce released the clasp and walked towards the door he had come through. Now he was sure he had heard something. Voices were arguing outside. They must have heard the gray giant’s howls of pain. Desperate to find a way out, the rogue’s eyes noticed a trapdoor in the floor near the dead humanoid’s torso. He opened it and peered down a staircase at a small squadron of Doom guards.

"Who the hell is that?" Yelled a guard. They began to charge up the stairs as Deuce slammed the trapdoor closed. He used all his strength to quickly pull the giant’s dead carcass over the trapdoor. He could hear men straining under it and cursing.

A small ball of flame appeared in the center of the room. Deuce backed away from the flame and hid in the shadows. Hearing voices, he peered down the hall at the one-way door he used to come in. Several soldiers were beginning to enter, the one in the lead saying, "Come on, boys, they are yelling downstairs that the Keeper is dead and his killer is loose in here."

"If he killed the All Mighty Keeper, maybe we should just let the man be, sir." A nervous guard whispered.

"Scott’s got a point, sir. I think we should turn around and just let him be. The gods know, that woman who got away fought like a dervish," another muttered.

The rogue smiled bitterly to himself. The five visible guards were too many for him to fight, especially after the beating he had just taken. And yet they feared him because he got lucky against their Keeper. At least they indicated Esk was out safely.

The ball of fire began to expand and he saw the bow of a ship through it. That had to be Yor’s portal, and it was the only way out for him. He clenched his fist, fearing how far away from Riversy the SS Vesper might be. It hadn’t been seen in ten years, but he was out of options. "It’s expanding too slow to fit me, I have to buy more time," Deuce thought to himself. His eyes fell on a spear laid beneath an armored skeleton on the ground. "Time to put the fear of the devil into them."

Slipping the spear from underneath the corpse, Deuce crouched into the shadow of the hallway and launched the spear. The projectile flew true and impaled one of the lead guards in the shoulder. The man went down screaming, and as his companions stared at him in horror, the rogue slipped out of the hallway and into the chamber.

"Where in the Abyss did that come from?" A guard screamed.

The guards were overly careful now, advancing slow with shields raised. Their fear gave Deuce just enough time to gather the mercenary’s corpse and wait by the portal. When the guards were asked later about what they saw in the chamber, they spoke of a blood-covered devil with white hair and shining violet eyes, a skeleton wrapped in its arms. The devil stood in front of a gate of fire, winked at them, stepped through the flames, and was gone.


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