The Game of Shadows - Part Five
By Deuce Traveler
Raaf Ling wasn't comfortable
about staying in the Fox and Hare Inn of Hillby just two days
after the big vault heists, but Deuce Traveler had insisted. The
tall rogue had said that since Saint had helped them, even
grudgingly, it was time to return the favor and do what they
could for Saint's wife. That meant trying to find the undead lich
and take his black sphere. Deuce had made it known through his
remaining contacts that unknown persons were paying for
information on the appearances of undead infesting the Riversy
This also made Raaf uncomfortable. Such questions were on par with announcing their presence with a bonfire, and Deuce should have known better. The former assassin began to become paranoid, seeing every unfamiliar face as a possible informer and every person hidden in the shadows as an assailant. He decided to stay with the group, cursing himself every hour for not taking the next carriage out of town. "I'm getting old," he would think to himself in disgust. Truth was, a part of him was getting tired of running.
Deuce and Raaf met with a number of contacts throughout the two days. As it always was with unfamiliar news sources, the information brought to them was full of obvious falsehoods. The liars were usually people hard up on life and hoping for a quick coin, their tales full of the incredible. Certainly some were in the payroll of the Brotherhood and there to spread disinformation to anyone who may be looking into their activities. One man even insisted that a ghost attacked him inside a holy chapel near Dowinn's Tomb. There was a certain tale that they paid a man handsomely for, however. He had said that a race of beings called Myconids had appeared on the surface of Riversy, begging any person they had seen carrying a weapon to visit their underground kingdom. Supposedly, the walking dead have been sailing up an underground river that passes through their land and entering into Riversy. Any Myconid who accidently strayed into their path was killed.
It was their only lead and Saint began to get excited at the possibility of tracking down the lich. "That would explain why sometimes the sphere would hint to me that its sister was in a downward direction. The lich was traveling underground."
"I had hoped that the latest set backs the Brotherhood suffered would have brought the creature out," Raaf said with a slight frown. News had reached them that offenses against the guilds had begun to slow, with a major attack against the Highlander Clan as an exception. In addition, the mansion that the Brotherhood of the Blade were stationed out of had been attacked last night by unknown adventurers, with casualties high on both sides. The identities of the Brotherhood's leaders had finally reached their enemies, care of the Evening Star Mercenaries. Deuce and Gabrielle were able to empty the Brotherhood's Riversy vault, Raaf and Saint had emptied Hillby's. Karoman had an adventure with his men emptying the Brotherhood's Elwyn vault, but succeeded, as did Moloon and his boys in Laketown. Esmerelda and her young pledges ran into trouble in Rockby, ending up on the run and stopping communication. Despite that worry, the missions were a huge success. Raaf suggested, "Perhaps we can wait and see if the lich surfaces."
"I plan to go into the Myconid territory and hunt him down myself. I can't spare any more time, and I won't aid you anymore," Saint said angrily. He too had hoped that the being with the sphere would surface, knowing how deadly the lich would be in its own lair. The priest could wait no longer, his wife fading away as the days went by.
Saint watched Deuce nod while staring outside a window, watching the sun setting. "I'll help you, Saint. There is little else that can be done here." Saint was beginning to worry about the large rogue, despite his own sorrows. Deuce talked less as the days had gone by, only speaking when there was work to be done. Gone was his dark sense of humor, and he seemed to brood as word came in by the day of another young Mercenary hunted down and killed.
Gabrielle looked disgusted, "Count me out of this. I'm not traveling into parts unknown just to save some battle priestess. This does not serve the Dark Army, and so I leave you in the morning."
Raaf thought about his options and said, "I also will not go. Someone is going to have to run this shadow war, and if Deuce is not here, they will need my expertise. Our scouts are in place, and it will take some time before the money in the SS Vesper's holds will be able to reach us." He was going to say more, but his scryer began to hum. He grasped his and saw Deuce do the same to his own scryer.
"Is Deuce there," came Esmerelda's weak voice projected into their minds.
"Esmerelda, Raaf here. Deuce is here, too. Are you alright."
"Oh, me? I'm just fine... just fine..." Esmerelda sobbed.
"How are the children," Deuce's concerned voice could be heard over the scryers.
Esmerelda's voice spat over the scryers and her voice became lively, "They're all dead, second in command, Deuce Traveler. Are you satisfied with your little war, first mate, sir? We've been running for two days and they were all run down. I got to watch most of it first hand. I wasn't strong enough to save them and Teeral just died in my arms from a poison arrow he was struck with last night. I hope you burn in hell, thief."
Raaf disconnected his communication as he saw Deuce shoot up from the table and stumble, mumbling, "All our pledges in Rockby... they're all dead..."
Saint reached out for Deuce's arm to settle him down, horrified at the haunted look in the larger rogue's eyes. "Deuce, I'm so sorry."
"Don't touch me!" Patrons watched the tall rogue scream out loud as he fell backwards, tumbling onto empty bar stools, and falling with them in a loud crash. He backpeddled as he stood up again, catching his balance by grabbing a table, and ran out the door before his companions could stop him.
"He's losing it," Gabrielle said, shaking her head in frustration.
Seeing the concerned look on Saint's face, Raaf told him snidely, "Don't worry, Saint, he'll be back to help you. I don't know how much help he'll be in saving your wife now, but he'll be back." The guilty look in Saint's eyes told Raaf he still knew how to read a man's thoughts.
Also in Hillby, Helena was glad
she told Victor to hang back with the dozen dreadguards while she
scouted the streets. The rumors that Deuce Traveler had appeared
in in the town asking for information on Redin's undead army had
obviously been partially true, as she watched the large rogue
pass her. Helena smiled, noticing the man looked broken, his eyes
never even glancing up at possible dangers lurking in the
shadows. She followed his random wanderings until he began too
slow, his body looking tired. She watched Deuce stumble into an
inn. Helena followed him inside, noticing two men and a woman
watching him with concerned expressions as he climbed the stairs
and entered a rented room. The female assassin smiled to herself,
and walked to the outskirts of the town towards Victor and their
undead servants. "I found big brother." A playful smile
reached her lips. "He's sleeping in a room on the second
floor, but his friends are having a drink inside. I'll slip
inside in an hour and make sure none of his three companions have
left the bar. If not, the two of us can climb to his window and
Victor thought of the plan and turned to the undead, "You are to follow us at a distance of thirty five meters. Do not do anything, unless you see us engaged in battle." He then smiled at his sister, patting his unkempt blonde hair unconsciously. "Alright then, Helena. This should be fun."
Raaf was having a drink quietly with Saint and Gabrielle when he saw the pretty, black skinned lady in the small skirt enter the bar again. She had entered an hour earlier, right behind Deuce. Raaf knew she was looking at him now. It was in the way she seemed to look around the bar at everything but the three companions at the table, and the way she left just as quickly as she entered. Something about her description pulled at his memory. "We have company," Raaf spoke as he checked for his stiletto and stood. Saint began to stand up to go with him. "No, stay here. I'll go check it out." Raaf tossed his glasses to the table as he walked outside.
Helena placed on her sticky
gloves and sticky shoes. They were a set of magical items she had
taken as a trophy from a burglar she had killed, their owner's
mental commands enabling them to stick to walls and other
surfaces. Helena gave Victor a wink, looked around to make sure
it was safe, and climbed up to the window in no time. She opened
the latch with her stiletto, and crawled into the dark room.
Someone was sleeping soundly in a small bed, her presence going
unnoticed. Helena looked down to the ground at Victor who gave
her the hand signal to hide. The black skinned woman closed the
window and climbed into a dark corner of the room, like a spider
on the ceiling.
Victor, also known as 'the Herald', heard the door to the inn open as he signaled Helena and hid in the shadows. His heart beat fast as he recognized the man stepping out of the inn as Raaf Ling, second best assassin in all of Arainor. Some said behind Victor's back that the Herald was the actual second best, and the blonde assassin smiled as he realized this was his chance to finally prove himself once and for all. Grinning, he glanced up to make sure that Helena had closed the window and hidden, then he looked down to where Raaf was just standing to see an empty street. Sweat gathered on his brow as he walked in the shadows, knowing the other assassin was out there. Victor thought of calling the dreadguards to attack, but then thought of what that would do for his reputation. Gritting his teeth, he stared into the darkness for a sign of Raaf.
Helena watched the woman who
entered the room, marvelling at her wings. The assassin
contemplated killing the lady, but shook the thought off, wanting
to concentrate on her primary target, Deuce. She reasoned
secondary targets could wait for now, even if it was tempting to
watch the light in the eyes of an angel fade in death before her.
The winged woman seemed to be there to check on Deuce, and she
approached his bed, staring at him for a moment. Helena watched
her handle his blankets and gently place them over the sleeping
rogue. "Mmm...Caitlyn," Helena heard Deuce say, causing
the winged woman to swear and angrily leave the room. Despite her
obvious rage, the woman still closed the door quietly so the
rogue could sleep. Helena silently chuckled to herself, knowing
that the winged woman's name was obviously not Caitlyn.
The assassin dropped noiselessly to the floor and removed her gloves and shoes, finally deciding on having a little fun before the kill. Grabbing the sheets, she gently removed them from the sleeping rogue, took her two stilettos out, and crawled up to him from the foot of the bed. She placed one blade against his throat, while the other was pressed against his ribs. Straddling him, she pushed the stiletto in his ribs just enough to draw blood and said in her whimsical voice, "Wake up, big brother." She watched his worn eyes flicker open as he stared up at her in astonishment. "No, don't speak. If you try to call out to your friends, I'll have to kill you, and I want to have my fun first." She kissed him roughly on the lips, neck, and chest, drawing blood as she bit his nipple. His squirming and look of rage excited her as she tasted blood. Helena felt a certain amount of pleasure when her victims were helpless. She began to work his pants and her skirt.
Victor had been standing with
his back to the wall for the last few minutes. Helena had still
not come out, and he hoped that whatever she was doing, she would
make it last long enough for him to kill Raaf. If his sister came
out into the streets now, Raaf would discover his location and
may disengage. As a young teenager being taught the ways of the
assassin, Victor was told of the exploits of Raaf as part of his
education. The man had become a legend that the blonde assassin
modelled himself after. One day Raaf had joined the Evening Star
Mercenaries and stopped doing assassinations, no-one knowing why,
but the rumors fuelled his already legendary reputation.
That was the day the Herald had become the example to young killers everywhere. Out with the old, in with the new. "But I'm still having the damnest time finding the aging hasbean," Victor thought to himself. A slight movement in an alley caught Victor's attention. He moved out of eyeshot of the alley, and silently ran across the street and behind a cart, hoping to find his target in the alley and not a simple mugger or cat feasting on trash.
Helena rode him faster, her
breath heavy, but still able to keep the two stilettos against
his ribs and neck. She had nicked him a few times in her
excitement, and his painful writhing sent shivers of pleasure
through her body. The assassin thought of the poison on her
blades, knowing that Deuce would soon suffer the effects. She
also thought of the winged woman, and wondered how she would
react once she saw the tall rogue dead in his bed, stabbed and
violated. The last thought sent Helena over the edge, her own
orgasm heightened by one from the rogue under her. Her mind was
lost in lust for a moment, and she laid down on the rogue's chest
and kissed his unyielding lips lovingly.
Looking sweetly into his eyes Helena asked, "Deuce, if you tell me where the money is I won't kill you." Shame at his own orgasm filled his eyes and he stared back at her with the last shreds of dignity he could gather, defiant. The assassin looked down at him sweetly, and lowered herself to kiss his lips one more time. "I'm going to miss you, big brother, but know that watching you die will make me love you forever," she promised him as she promised the past kills she had chosen to humiliate before slaying. She plunged her stiletto into his ribs, stabbing upwards so that the rogue would not be able to scream out.
Victor had put his head low and peaked around the corner. Staring into where he saw the movement before, the outline of an unmoving figure began to appear to him. The Herald stared longer, letting his eyes adjust to the shape and he realized that the figure was indeed Raaf. Victor smiled as he saw that the shadows were perfect for him to attempt to get behind the other man, if he was patient and silent. Also, the man appeared to be staring where Victor used to be standing, unaware that Victor was quite closer now. The Herald began to slip into the alley.
Helena watched for a moment as
Deuce twisted helplessly on the bed, blood soaking the sheets and
the poison beginning to take its effect. The rogue was trying to
call out to his friends for help, but all that came out were
barely audible gasps and globs of blood coughed up. The sight was
so pleasing to Helena that she realized she wanted a trophy.
"What do you have in here, big brother?" She picked up
his satchel and went through it finding mostly the rogues tools
and weapons. Helena gasped as she pulled out a beautiful red
ruby. "Oh, who gave you this gem? It's stunning," she
said in wonder. "Tut tut! What are you doing? Trying to
She watched as Deuce threw himself away from her and onto the floor with a wet thump. She could hear the rogue as he shuffled himself under the bed, leaving a wet, crimson trail. He was trying to say something from under the bed, but kept coughing up instead. Helena was about to get lean down to hear him better when he finally managed to say coherently, "Nrollam... <caff> ...Nrollamedac." Helena's blood ran cold as she felt the ruby in her hand begin to heat up. The assassin was pulling back her arm to throw the ruby away from her when it exploded, tearing her body into flaming pieces, blowing out the window, and igniting the room into flames.
Victor looked back in shock as the explosion filled his ears and illuminated the dark night. The Herald clenched his fist in rage at the thought that Helena might be dead. Then he cursed himself a fool for not running, realizing that the fireball had revealed his position and his back was to Raaf. The blonde assassin nodded to himself in understanding as Raaf's free hand pulled his forehead back and his blade entered Victor's neck. It was an honor to know death from his childhood hero, the greatest assassin in Arainor.
Gabrielle was deep in another
beer, drinking heavily after her visit to Deuce's room. Saint was
drinking tea in the bar, believing alcohol to be unclean. Both
had hoped that Raaf would return and tell them that everything
was safe, when the flaming door to Deuce's room blew out and
crashed into an empty table below. Saint and Gabrielle didn't
hesitate to run to the room, finding the walls and furniture
inside burning, and pieces of a body inside the room. Saint
worried that the pieces were Deuce, when Gabrielle spotted an arm
underneath the burning bed, and pulled the naked, blood-covered
rogue out from under it.
"He's got the devil's luck!" Saint picked up the rogue's arms as Gabrielle grabbed his legs. Saint held the black sphere in his hand as he cast his portal spell, delivering the three companions to the streets of Hillby.
Raaf was down the street fighting a dread guard. Saint counted a dozen more dreadguards coming up the street when Raaf stabbed the one he was fighting in the eyeslits of its helmet, destroying the creature. Gabrielle was healing Deuce as Raaf ran back and yelled, "Leave him! We can't stop all of them and he's in too bad of shape to come with us."
"He's poisoned. He'll die if I don't help him," Gabrielle said, surprising Saint.
Raaf grabbed Saint by the shoulder as the priest added his own magic to Gabrielle's own healing powers, "Saint, the war goes on without him. We have to go! If you die here, so will your wife." The last phrase struck Saint as he tearfully left Deuce to his fate and began to run with Raaf.
Gabrielle knew that Raaf expected her to be running behind him, but she also could tell that the fallen rogue next to her was going to die if she didn't remove the poison from his system. She silently swore at Deuce, cursing him for putting herself into such a dilemna, and watching the dreadguards approach her. The fallen angel began to become one with the rythm of the rogue's weak heart, sensing the alien poison that was beginning to block his heart flow despite her powers. She concentrated harder, determinded to win, while reciting a chant to Tigress Silverclaw for strength. Gabrielle could sense the poison breaking down and diluting itself. Her eyes came open as she looked up haughtily at the group of dreadguards now surrounding her, pride filling her heart even as one of her enemies struck her unconscious with a mailed fist.
Morning would begin in an hour
and Raaf and Saint had followed the procession of dreadguards
through Hillby and to Riversy, concerned for their two friends
that were tied up and carried on the undead shoulders. The two
had not expected Gabrielle to attempt to save Deuce, and they
certainly did not expect the dreadguards to take prisoners. Raaf
sat on a far hill with Saint, observing the eastern gate of
Riversy, angry at the scene before their eyes. As the walking
dead approached the gate a sergeant of the Riversy guard stopped
them, gingerly took a sack of what were probably coins from one
of the dreadguards, and let them enter the city.
"Unbelievable," Saint breathed. "Are so many of the Riversy guards so corrupt that they don't care for their own city."
"I am not pleased to see this either, Saint, but I am willing to bet that there are only a few of them that are corrupt. And whoever assigns the guard rotation to the east gate made sure that only those under the Brotherhood's payroll worked here tonight. Can you get us into Riversy with that portal spell of yours? I would like to avoid these guards if possible," Raaf suggested.
"I'd like to teach them a lesson. People have been attacked in this city by creatures such as those."
"Do not worry, my friend. I have memorized their faces and will have it taken care of later. Right now we have bigger concerns." Raaf examined the guards one more time, while adjusting Deuce's satchel he had recovered.
Saint nodded to Raaf and held his shoulder while staring at a space just beyond the east gate and some distance behind the shuffling dreadguards. The priest used the black sphere to enhance the spell, feeling disoriented as space twisted itself around him and deposited himself and his companion onto the streets of Riversy. The black sphere quivered in his hand, sending warning of the presence of one of its sisters. "Raaf, the lich is here in Riversy."
"You sense him? Perhaps we should leave and alert the guards then. The two of us cannot defeat him, but we can try to find allies to drive him out."
"My wife is defenseless in the temple. I won't simply walk away," Saint said as he began to run through the streets, Raaf swearing as he trailed him.
"I want to know where the lich is, Saint. It will be valuable information that could aid the war, but I promise you that if you attack that thing, you are on your own," Raaf said as he easily kept up with the priest's frantic pace.
Saint continued to run through the empty streets, passing the temple and arriving in Merchant's Square. They ran by a patrol of Riversy guards that let them by, screaming at them about a curfew and telling them to run home. Saint finally stopped near the front of an inn, using the sphere to see through its walls for his enemy, and shocked to see Esk standing in a room and wearing a nightgown holding her own sphere and looking back at the priest with a smile. "It's Esk, and she has another black sphere. I see Mathias sleeping soundly in another room."
Raaf smiled to himself, relieved that something had finally gone their way. "Allies sorely needed. I hope they have our pledges with them."
The Brotherhood of the Blade
was in retreat. The guild was already beginning to overextend
their suppy lines, money for operations hampered by the distances
and personnel necessary to take them where they were needed. They
had suffered set backs as the Evening Star Mercenaries had put
their own spy networks into the service of their allies, despite
the systematic elimination of known Mercenary spies. When the
Brotherhood's vaults were emptied the money and equipment stopped
flowing except to finish off the Highlander Clan before that
guild could rebuild from its latest setbacks. Sarrel was
satisfied about the strike, its success meaning the Highlander
Clan would be crippled until his own guild could attempt to
recover. He was much less satisfied to find his headquarters in
Riversy was destroyed, and that Redin had sent a message to
Sarrel's remaining contacts that he needed to see the guildmaster
at his sanctuary along the underground river.
Sarrel squinted at the noonday sun while he gazed at the fortified walls of Riversy. He remembered that only last week Redin needed the Brotherhood of the Blade more than they needed him, and the lich would visit the guildmaster on Sarrel's terms. Now there were rumors coming from the guild's remaining contacts that undead have been seen roaming the lands of Amaranth in steadily increasing numbers. Riversy had begun to enforce curfews after dark and double their guards on duty, constantly on the hunt for the walking dead. The guildmaster was dismayed to think that while his own guild and those of his enemies were annihilating one another, Redin's army of undead had seemed to be gathering in strength as if feeding from the chaos being wrought. And now the guildmaster would have to see the lich and beg him for the soldiers to fend off his enemies. The victory over the Highlander Clan suddenly seemed empty to Sarrel, and he began to wonder who his true enemy was.
The guildmaster wondered where his siblings were and hoped for their quick return. He was beginning to feel danger in the air and knew he would need them to survive the unknown conflicts the future would bring. Sarrel had two of strongest body guards accompany him as he entered Riversy and headed for the sewers. There was a sewer tunnel that led to the Myconid lands under Riversy, and an underground river that led from there to Redin's sealed lair. Sarrel noted that the path to the underground river was strangely devoid of Myconids, in hiding from the constant travels of undead through their lands.
Sarrel and his bodyguards passed the Myconid lands and dug out a hidden rope that was tied to a stake in the ground. Pulling on the rope, the guards reeled in an old wooden boat left here by the Brotherhood for the rare instances they had to visit Redin in the past. They entered the boat and began to row through the underground cavern, strange, blue florescent moss lighting their travel. They sailed for kilometers, passing the old ruins of Grit Town.
Grit Town was once used as a refugee camp for those fleeing the evils of the mortal Redin when he ruled Riversy centuries ago. Before his undeath he discovered its location and had the settlement slaughtered to the last man. Rumors persisted that ghosts now haunted the old site, a claim none found reason to attempt to disprove. After Redin had become a lich, he built his home close to the remains of those who resisted him all that time ago. Even in death the lich gave his enemies no peace.
The guildmaster and his two guards came to a huge gate with the Royal Emblem of Amaranth emblazoned on its face. There was no visible lock, but seven magical symbols lined the opening of the gate, starting from its base and stopping at its top. As Sarrel approached, that symbols began to glow in sequence, then fade one after another. As the last symbol vanished, the gate swung inward, allowing the trio to step from their boat and onto the entrance to Redin's abode. The last guard threw a small anchor off the boat's side so that they could travel back to Riversy.
A ball of flame appeared in front of Sarrel, filling the area with light, and began to float away from the three men. Motioning his men to flank him, the guildmaster followed the light as he supposed he was meant to do. The interior hall was huge, well carved pillars climbing into the ceiling hidden by the cloak of darkness high overhead. Steady packs of walking corpses and skeletons walked by the living visitors in a sad mockery of royal guards on patrol and servants performing chores. Dreadguards lined the walls and stood motionless, waiting for the commands to give them animation and purpose. The guildmaster's guards looked around uneasily, hands unconsciously reaching for the hilts of their blades. It was evident to Sarrel that Redin still fancied himself ruler of Riversy, and he seemed to be close to having the mass amounts of troops to take the city. Frowning at that thought, Sarrel wished that the flame would lead him to Redin faster so he could be done with this meeting.
The flame led him down another corridor, and then into a large throne room. Braziers filled with blue, red, and green flames lit this hall in a dazzling display of flickering light. Ancient banners lined the walls of this great hall, and marble busts of long dead allies from Redin's mortal years sat on pedestals looking into the room. A dozen stone steps led upwards to a golden throne in which sat the lazy, dark skinned human form of Redin the lich. Between the steps and the stone floor was a cobblestone walkway, flanked by flowing water from the underground river. The flowing water would have been beautiful anywhere else, but instead added to the ghastliness of the room, its depths hiding unknown dangers that haunted Sarrel's imagination. The lich smiled pleasantly at the mortal trio that entered and sat upright, pretending to be surprised at their entrance. "Sarrel! How nice to see you. What brings you here?"
"You asked me to come, Redin, so you tell me." Sarrel began to feel testy.
"Oh, that's right. I sometimes forget who I summon to see me. I wanted to discuss our disposition of forces around Riversy."
The guildmaster was furious, although he was able to remain expressionless. "A summons? Like I'm you're damned servant," Sarrel thought to himself. He said out loud, "Well, I like to think of it more of a meeting of allies than a summons. What did you wish to discuss?"
"I have the feeling that your resources are spread out too far, so I want you to pull back all you can to Riversy and the surrounding area. Riversy is the only thing important to me, so we will let the opposition have the remaining cities until I feel like expanding again," Redin said, a bored smile on his face.
"My men and I are not under your control, lich. I am guildmaster of the Brotherhood, not you. I agree it may be time to pull back resources, but I plan to move my forces back into the shadows to fight another day. At the rate the tide is turning any other plan could mean the guilds destruction."
"Unacceptable. Riversy must be mine again and I must find the priest with the Eye of Brakkart. Another attempt at gaining an eye has failed, and I tire of not being able to maintain this mortal form. I also tire of this boring home of mine. I want to feel sweet flesh under me again, enjoy a good drink, and rule over my loving subjects who impatiently wait my return." Redin's smile became a threatening grin. "This is no longer an alliance. Your forces are too weak to work with mine to be useful unless I decide where they are to be directed. I will have your guild's resources, either with your agreement or not. I'd rather you agree to this peacefully. I find your people are more effective with their minds intact, and would not be as useful as undead."
"Destroy him," Sarrel ordered his men.
The two drew their dark swords while cautiously climbing up the stairs at the still smiling lich. Redin felt his Eye of Brakkart resting warmly against his chest as it hung from a necklace. Using its power to augment his nether bolt spell, he caused a bolt of pure darkness to fly from the Eye and pierce the closest of Sarrel's guards in the heart. The man toppled back against the stairs with a low moan of pain as his heart stopped pumping blood to his body. The other guard froze in the stiffness of fear, which quickly became rage under Redin's mocking laughter.
The guard rushed the lich, his sword held back in preparation to pierce Redin. The lich moved away from the sword with surprising speed, but the guard still managed to slice his side, drawing black, putrid blood. Redin yelped in pain, forgetting that the flesh he had created for himself could feel pain. The lich grabbed the guard's swordarm and squeezed down with supernatural strength, causing the man to drop his weapon in pain. Redin then put his free hand over the man's face and said with satisfaction, "Die!" The guard screamed as his soul was burned from his body and his life energy was absorbed.
Sarrel had snuck around Redin while the lich was engaged with his men. He had not wanted this conflict, but knew that the lich had sought it himself, and he would be damned if his guild was going to become someone's puppet. The lich had just killed the second guard. "Strike the necklace and take the black sphere," he told himself as he got behind the lich and brought his sword down on the back of Redin's neck. The necklace was cut as Sarrel's sword went deep into the lich's shoulder, causing him to scream in pain. Sarrel saw the black sphere begin to roll down the stairs and chased after it, being yanked back by his arm suddenly by a strong, skeletal hand. The rogue couldn't break free of Redin's grip, and the lich twisted Sarrel around to stare at his skull, then grabbed him by the throat. Redin had lost his human flesh when the Eye fell from him, an angry red glow deep in his eye sockets showing his rage.
"If my siblings were here I would have beaten you," Sarrel said, trying to stall and think of a way free.
Redin suddenly turned amused, a ghastly grin appearing on the bits of skin that remained on his skull. "Your sister and brother are dead, killed by Deuce and his allies. Don't worry about him getting away, though. I watched the events through my soldier's eyes. You see, Sarrel, the dead are my spies. I ordered them to capture Deuce, son of Gilden, and we are preparing to interrogate him thoroughly."
"You need me. You underestimate his friends, they will come for him and kill you."
"I plan to still use you, Sarrel. Or your body I should say. As for his friends, the chances of that happening are about the same as you surviving this," Redin stressed the last word as he snapped the rogue's neck.
Saint's attempt to use the two
black spheres to revive his wife failed, although Angeli's
chances for survival were greatly increased and her body healed
from the ravages of dehydration and starvation. The priests of
the temple did their best to feed her soups, but the process was
painstaking for fear of the woman choking in her deep sleep.
Saint insisted on traveling to the Myconid lands and using his
black spehere to guide him to the lich in the hopes that
combining all three artifacts would be power enough to restore
his wife. Esk quickly agreed to accompany him, as did a now
healed Rune. Rune of the `Ndrangheta insisted on Saint returning
the black sphere to his guild when done and refused to be left
out of eye sight of it. Lord Mathias also agreed to join the
group, although he said he needed time to prepare and send a
letter to his wife in the lumber town of Logby. Cashel was asked
to stay at the temple and guard over Angeli. That left Raaf to
decide to stay with the group or leave.
The former assassin weighed his options while his companions left him alone to think and discussed what equipment they would bring. Raaf did not like the mission, feeling that going into enemy territory without having a clue about the opponent's strength or placement of forces was insanity. He also wanted to start reorganizing the Evening Star Mercenaries with Yor now that it seemed the Brotherhood of the Blade was on the run. However, it seemed that more undead were beginning to appear in Amaranth in key locations such as blocking roads, waterways, and high hill tops. They moved as if guided by an intelligent hand, and Raaf feared that the lich may be preparing for an assault on Amaranth. The former assassin also felt that another retreat by the Mercenaries would destroy the guild and sever connections with his remaining contacts. The rogue could simply travel out of Amaranth and wait the trouble out in a far away land, but he was tired of being on the run in his older years. Slowly, he began to walk to the group to state that he was coming with them.
As Lord Mathias approached the entrance to Riversy Castle he had similar thoughts about the foolishness of the mission to chase the lich in its own home. The ranger was greeted by people who knew him as a loyal vassal of King Brind. The thought of going into the caverns underneath Riversy disgusted the ranger. Mathias had faced death before, but mostly as a youth who hungered for adventure and not as the older man he was, now he simply missed his wife and child when he had to travel far away. Rangers loved the outdoors, and dying in subterranean filth was not the way they should meet their end. Sighing to himself he gave a letter to his friend and trusted castle guard, Terry Fletcherson. "Hello again, good friend and well met."
Terry took the letter and smiled, "For me? You shouldn't have."
Despite himself, Mathias grinned at the jest, "No, you fool, it's for my wife. I'm about to go on a lich hunt and so if I don't come back I want you to give it to her."
"That's a terrible joke," Terry said seriously. "We've been having a hard time with packs of undead loose in the city at night."
"It's no joke, Terry. Saint, Esk, Rune, and I are planning on hunting the creature down," Mathias said, not knowing that Raaf would also accompany him.
"Impressive company you keep. How many rangers, knights, and guards do you need?"
"No, Terry, my friends and I will take no one else with us. I know how undermanned Amaranth is in its attempt to contain the warring guilds and keeping the undead from harming its citizens. You can't spare anyone who would be as skilled as my companions, and the inexperienced would simply be a hindrance to us. Oh, a disreputable acquaintance of mine wanted me to tell you not to be alarmed if a few of your guards who were watching the east gate end up dead in the next few days. He claims they are under the payroll of the Brotherhood of the Blade and have been allowing undead to enter and leave the city. This man also claims that you have a man he hasn't discovered yet also under the payroll, and that it is probably whoever schedules the guard rotations for the east gate."
"Those are some pretty serious allegations, my Lord Mathias. You know how I feel about someone questioning the intergrity of a fellow Riversy guardsman."
"Yes, and I share your feelings on integrity. However, the popular priest and loyal servant to King Brind, Saint, agrees with his claims."
"I see. Thank you for the news and may the gods be with you, my friend. Do you need me to say anything to your wife if I am unfortunately forced to deliver this letter?"
"Tell her I held my head high," Mathias answered as he hugged his friend goodbye. As the ranger left the castle entrance he remembered the words he had written and recited them in his mind to give himself strength for the coming conflict. 'To Selena. My love, my heart, my soul. If you have received this letter I am most likely gone from this world. My only regrets are that I did not live through the years long enough to help our child become an adult and spend many more joyous seasons with you. I died a King's Ranger, and nothing fills me with more pride than the realization that I have fallen as I have lived, for good King Brind, for Amaranth, and for the family I love. You will have former allies of mine come to pay their respects. When they see you, my love, give them a brave face and let them know this is my message to them: When you think of me look upwards onto the magnificient, blue sky. Don't cry for me, for I chose my path without reservation. Know that I watch you all from the heavens with pride, joy, and love. Raise your swords on high, lads, and let this tired, old ranger see the sun gleam off the blades that defend my home.'
Tools were handled by three
humanoids that could only be described as a cross between humans
and rats. They wore loose fitting clothes and possessed pink
rat-like tails, and long snouts filled with sharp, yellow teeth.
Brown fur thinly covered their bodies and their eyes were all
brown, without the whiteness of the eyes that humans possessed.
In front of the three was a naked man suspended by ropes, his
hands tied behind his back. The lead ratman, Dergar Bonenasher,
was pondering what interrogation method to apply next when a
flesh covered Redin walked in with his new zombie bodyguard.
"Ahhhh... my lords...," Dergar said excitedly, bowing
repeatedly to the lich and his two assistants following suit.
"I must admits this humans is most excellents
"Really? And what is so excellent about him? I see that priestess of Tigress Silverclaw has healed his wounds. You aren't adding too many new ones, are you? Remember, I need him answering questions about the guilds and Amaranths forces," Redin lectured his torturer without giving him time to answer. Years ago, the curious Dergar and his assistants had been traveling near the gate to Redin's lair in the search for creatures to run their biological experiments on. The lich allowed the gates to open, hoping to relieve some boredom on the hapless Dergar. He soon found that the ratman was not afraid of the undead inside the lair, but instead quite curious about them, poking them with his fingers as they approached. Now Redin gave the resources Dergar requested in exchange for sharing the findings of the ratman. Dergar and his assistants had learned so much about anatomy that they had also become experts in the application of physical and mental anguish in the pursuit of learning a mortal's breaking point.
"He is interestings. We stretched this mans arms all day and do dropping him repeatedly like so," Dergar said with a nod to his assistants who began pulling on ropes. The man's tied arms were pulled from behind his back to a ninety degree angle where they were stopped, his body unable to be manipulated any further. The tall man grunted in pain, sweat dripping even faster from his tortured face. With a jerk of the ropes, the assistants pulled his arms past ninety degrees, dislocating the man's shoulders as he screamed. Another rope was loosened and the man fell to the stone floor, his tortured arms tied behind him and unable to soften the fall. The man screamed again as he was pulled upwards by his dislocated limbs and dropped to more times. "See you do thats he still feel screams. Its is normals for a mans to become numb or falls unconscious and seperateds from the pain afters some time or to starts going insanes. Is self defense mechanisms. He does neithers, just takes it alls."
"Is he answering our questions," Redin asked.
"Kindas. The mans lies to us, but he does answers. He knows ans amazing amounts of datas on guilds and about Amaranths, but its hard to knows truths from him. His minds stays intacts ands hes is able to think clearlys to us before answerings," Dergar said.
"Raise him," the lich ordered and approached the panting, suffering man. "Deuce Traveler, son of Gilden. I'm pleased to meet you at last."
The tall rogue's long hair was matted from dirt and hid most of his face from Redin. The Mercenary managed to look up, pain showing in his eyes. "I suppose it's a bit much to hope you're here to rescue me."
"Excellent," the lich thought, "He has a sense of humor." Redin said amused, "No, but I can have you freed. I'm not a bad man, you see, but there is a war going on and you have information I need. Now you can cooperate, or we can hurt you some more and start again tomorrow. That woman with the wings will heal your body again, and the process will go on. Oh, and I do have infinite patience, by the by. It comes from no longer being alive."
"I'm not really in a helpful mood, right now."
"Why not, your brother is my latest helper. You could be, too," Redin motioned to his guard next to him and watched as Deuce's eyes filled with recognition of the walking corpse that was Sarrel.
Tears filled the rogue's eyes, surprising the Redin. "So you killed the last member of my family and made him a puppet. You're the lich."
"Now that's an insult I'm tired of hearing," Redin said, motioning an assistant to drop the rogue again. As they raised Deuce back into the air, the former ruler of Riversy grabbed the rogue by the hair and pulled his head back. "I will admit that my powers are similar to that of a lich, thief, but as you can see I'm flesh while a lich is simply bone."
Redin watched the rogue smile at him through the pain. "You have that black sphere, don't you? It's giving you the flesh you desire, but you aren't a man, just a dead thing denying what it truly is. You're a thing, an abomination."
The lich struck Deuce across the face hard, causing the rogue to twist by the ropes. His head was slumped forward and blood trickled from his mouth, making Redin believe he had killed him. The Mercenary's head suddenly bobbed as he coughed up a glob of blood. The former ruler of Riversy pulled out the Eye of Brakkart and lifted the rogue's eyes to it. "You see this? This is my power! This allows me to be flesh indefinitely, and a greater man than you will ever be, thief and liar."
"You see a black mist when you look inside the sphere, don't you? Allow me to tell you what I see. I see an iron tower on a barren, charred plain. I see four sets of eyes watching from the tower. There is an elf who looks almost like a faerie floating in the air. I see an old, but beautiful woman with wisdom and infinity in her eyes. I see a female tiger woman, a blend of rage and bemusement on her face. I see a tall, dark man seated next to a beautiful, collared woman whose hair and eyes keep changing as I observe. And they are all looking out from the black sphere with great interest. I am no thief, lich, you are. That dark treasure is not yours and you must rely on the toys of others to prove your shriveled, dead manhood."
Redin struck him once more, this time on his twisted shoulder, causing the rogue to scream again. He was going to destroy Deuce, punch him again and again until there was nothing recognizable but a pool of blood. "He wants me to kill him," the lich realized as he thought he saw a gleam of victory in the man's eyes. "You're close to breaking him, Dergar. Work on him all night, I don't want him to eat, sleep, or drink. Work your men in shifts if you have to," Redin instructed as he left the ratmen. The lich would be glad when Deuce was no longer valuable to him could be killed. It unnerved him to think about the rogue's vision. The iron tower described could only be Brakkart Fellblade's, and the people he saw must have been gods. Redin shook the thought from his mind, telling himself how resourceful Deuce Traveler's information network was. "He must know the origin of the Eye and nothing more. I'm scaring myself into thinking that devil is something more than a mere thief."
Gabrielle had been alone for a
long time when Deuce Traveler's broken body was tossed back into
their cell. She rushed to him, holding his quivering body and
looking at his swollen face. Cuts and bruises covered him, and he
seemed half mad and oblivious to the world around him. The fallen
angel sobbed and began to heal him, swearing she would tear this
structure down brick by brick once they were freed.
As her magic strengthened him, she saw Deuce's eyes open. "No, Gabrielle. Please stop."
"I'm not trying to hurt you, you damned idiot."
"No, Gabrielle. I'm dying. Let me go, lass. My siblings and students are dead. I've told the lich and their interrogators too much, and I tried so hard not to. They're learning things from me and more people are going to suffer. I'm tired, hun. I'm tired of people suffering because of things I do or don't do. Let me go."
Gabrielle wanted to curse him a coward, but couldn't, knowing him better. She began to believe that the rogue really did care about people in his own strange ways. His suffering reminded the fallen angel of her own, when she walked the line between the dark and light before finally falling to darkness. Deuce was willing to fall to the light, however, having the strength that she herself did not. This cursed rogue underneath her was willing to die if it meant saving others. "I didn't have that strength," she thought to herself. "I let the man I loved die instead of me and cursed myself to the darkness. And now for the darkness I'm going to save the man I love who wants to die." She stopped herself suddenly, realizing that she loved the rogue and that she couldn't let him die and leave her alone in the darkness. "I can't let you die, Deuce," she whispered softly and thought of a new excuse to save him. "I have a feeling you are important in all this, and Tigress Silverclaw would never forgive a servant that allowed a useful tool to die."
"I could give a damn about the gods, and I doubt your goddess would care what you do."
"You don't know Tigress Silverclaw," the fallen angel said gently and began to heal the man. Tears filled her eyes as his tortured nerve endings began to repair themselves, causing Deuce to scream in anguish and flail wildly. Gabrielle easily held the weakened man down, continuing to heal him as the tears began to flow from her eyes. The fallen angel knew that she was damned, and that she would never get the wings she suddenly longed for back again.
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