The Game of Shadows - Part Six
By Deuce Traveler
Sarrel felt he was going mad.
Being undead meant for him he could see outside his body, but was
not in control. Redin had left his body in a unused guest bedroom
with instructions to dust the entire room and clean the sheets,
although no living visitor had ever used the chamber in
centuries. Redin still thought himself tp be King of Riversy,
however, and everything must be held to royal standards, even
going to the lengths of making his servant wear a cleaning apron.
Sarrel cursed Redin for the hundredth time as his body continued
to dust the bedposts.
Two cats eyes appeared suddenly in front of the corpse, scowling at Sarrel. The man found that he could now control his body, and looked at his hands in amazement. "I can move! Oh, thank the gods!"
"No, mortal, but I would thank one particular goddess if I were you," a voice said from the eyes.
"Yes, mortal. You have greatly disappointed me. I spoke to you in your dreams weeks ago, telling you it was time to turn against Redin and claim his sphere for yourself. You ignored my warning and now look at you. A walking corpse wearing a servant girl's apron. I am very, very angry at you."
"I followed your instructions about the Dark Army, my lady. I tried to limit the attacks against their own soldiers. I just didn't expect you to come to me in a dream, and thought it was just my imagination. Redin's troops greatly aided us in our attacks."
"Yes, and he used every death to gain in strength. If you had turned against him and succeeded I would have had the Dark Army control Amaranth and the Brotherhood of the Blade rooting out rebellions before they started. Now the Brotherhood of the Blade is leaderless and being destroyed, while the Dark Army is busy handling a rebellion in their lands your own people started. Sarrel, take off your tunic."
Sarrel did so unhesitatingly, not wanting to anger his goddess further. He was disgusted to see that he had no sense of touch and that his skin was the clammy feeling of a cadaver. As his shirt hit the floor, something hit his chest, leaving three long gashes on his chest.
"That is so you do not believe this was just a dream," Tigress Silverclaw said. "You have caused me to come to this land and use my power. Now others whose influence I had blocked will be able to manipulate this world. Pretend to be a stupid servant of Redin and follow his commands, but when you have the opportunity, take what you call the black sphere from him and make it yours. Do this and you will be a man again. Fail and be a mind trapped in an undead body. Do not displease me again or I will find for you a much worse fate."
Tigress Silverclaw's eyes
opened in Brakkart's Iron Tower. "It is done. Go ahead and
take your damn turn in the Circle, Brakkart."
"Finally! I thought I would go mad waiting, Tigress," Brakkart Fellblade said as he leaned back and stroked Gilian's hair unconsciously. The Circle of Yevaud limited the scope of influence he could use to manipulate events and he wanted to make his next action count.
"I'm not sure at this point that anything we do will aid our champions," Popple said concerned, playing absent mindedly with a braid of her hair. "I fear we have underestimated the lich."
Cade shook his head at Popple in disagreement, still having faith in the mortals they watched. He saw a black rabbit poke its head out from a satchel that Popple carried and offered it a carrot he created from thin air. The rabbit's nose twitched from the smell of food, and it jumped out of her satchel to nibble on the vegetable.
"You brought your damn pet to my tower," Brakkart said as he stood up angrily. He swore that if Popple didn't have the foresight to remove its need to urinate he would condemn the furry animal to a lifetime in hell and accept the consequences.
"Wyn gets lonely if I'm away too long. It's not easy to be an immortal bunny," Popple said with a smile as she stroked the rabbit's fur.
With an angry shout, Brakkart stomped his foot on the ground, causing the rabbit to run behind a roll of carpet and peek from around the carpet's edge to see if it was safe. Ignoring Cade and Popple's scolding looks, the master of the Iron Tower sat back down, rubbing his temples in frustration. Gilian stared at him and bit her lower lip to keep herself from smiling, as Tigress nodded at him in satisfaction for scaring the annoying rabbit away. "Alright," Brakkart started to say, "I think it's time for my tool to free himself."
Dergar hummed to himself a
pleasant tune as he tried to decide which tool to use next. His
two apprentices were given rest so that they could relieve him in
a few hours and work on the rogue themselves. He settled for a
scalpel as he approached Deuce, hung upside down by a rope so his
head was eye level with Dergar, his hands tied by a cord with a
metal weight on the end. "Alights. Lets us start agains. You
were sayings about thems one hundreds and eights Dragon Knights,
before you grews quiet. Where are theys located again?"
Dergar could see the fear in the prisoner's eyes despite the reply, "They live in a beautiful tropical isle full of great drinks and half naked women. If you let me go I'd be more than happy to leave this pleasant place and take you there."
"Tuts tut," the ratman said as it shook its head, "I stills don't knows why you be disagreeables." He approached the rogue pondering whether or not to make a small cut against his nose or ribs when he was startled by a metal bang. Looking down, Dergar saw the metal weight and cords held Deuce's arms on the ground. He stood stunned as the rogue twisted and slapped the scalpel out of the ratman's hands, then wrapped his arms around Dergar's neck, surprising the ratman with their strength.
"Pleases! I was justs curious! You'res an interestings specimen!" The ratman pleaded while he struck the rogue with his fist's. With a loud pop that rang in his ears, and a jolt of pain, he felt his neck break under Deuce's pressure. This wasn't fair at all. He was just a scientist.
Getting the canoes down into
the sewer shafts and through the Myconid lands was the hard part,
having to buy them first, and then carry them the entire way. The
task ate up precious hours, but the five companions were finally
able to set sail on the underground river. Saint and Esk led the
two canoes through the winding tunnels, heading roughly southward
until they came to a large gate with seven symbols.
"It's through these gates," Saint said. He carried his mace along with a small, round shield.
"I agree, but how do we get in? That gate has no lock I can see, and it doesn't look like we have the strength to tear it down," Esk answered. She wore her heavier plate mail armor and her engraved sword, with a large square shield on her left arm. Her mind raced with the thought that she was finally close to ending her quest, the three black spheres would be hers, then she could give them to Saint once she found the knowledge she sought.
Seven symbols on the gate flickered and disappeared, followed by the gate swinging inward. "It seems our presence is also known." Rune frowned as he rowed his canoe close to the gate and stepped out, helping Saint out in the process. He had a new set of white robes on, and carried a quarterstaff with a channeling crystal on the end to enhance his magic. Once the five adventurers had all stepped out of the canoes, they pulled them onto the solid ground behind the gate.
"So much for the element of surprise." Raaf's dislike of this mission was increasing by the second. He had black leather armor on and carried two stilettos. "Alright how do we do this?"
"You scout ahead, Raaf. Esk will take the lead behind you, followed by Saint. Rune will be in front of me as I protect our rear." Lord Mathias checked his crossbow and sword, while adjusting his scail mail armor. "If anything jumps out, be sure to move out of the way so I can get a clear shot at it. Since we are already discovered, first we find the lich, then we go after Deuce and Gabrielle."
Gabrielle was walking around
the sides of her cell, testing for any way to escape. There was a
small vent on the bottom of the metal door to the room, but no
keyhole visible on the inside. Futhermore, the fallen angel had
found that her magic would not function in the room, as if
Tigress Silverclaw's power did not reach inside.
She heard a sudden scuffle outside the door, followed by the sound of heavy falling metal. Shortly after, she heard the outside lock of the door being manipulated, so she wasn't surprised at all to see Deuce open the door and step in, wearing a pair of torn up trousers and carrying two scalpels in his hands. The rogue tossed the piece of twisted metal he must have used to open the door onto the ground. The armor of the dreadguard Deuce seemed to have snuck up on laid in a heap on the ground. "And here I thought you would be mad at me for that whole healing you thing."
"No, I have not forgiven you for that, Gabrielle, but I will not leave you here either."
Gabrielle's heart fell at first, but soon grew hard, "You thought there was no way out, but look at you. You're alive and free. Don't blame me because you were wrong."
"I don't even know how I got free, it must have been luck. You couldn't have known that I would be able to escape, and how much have they been able to learn from me?"
"Your problem, rogue, is that you lack faith in the gods."
She watched Deuce's face, and for an instant she thought she saw him smile and relax, "You're right, I shouldn't have given up. Thank you. Now that we're free, what do you say about getting the hell out of here."
"I'm glad to see you may have a brain, after all," the fallen angel said, grabbing the sword of the destroyed dreadguard. She thought it strange that she should feel almost girlishly happy considering her environment. Gabrielle realized she liked it when Deuce admitted he was wrong and she was right. "You know, the nice thing about being stuck in hell is that things can only get better."
Raaf scouted ahead along the
huge, eerie entrance hall, hearing nothing but the beating of his
heart and the light tread of his feet. The footsteps of his
companions echoed loudly far behind him, hampering his ability to
listen for danger as he snuck from shadow to shadow created by
huge pillars. Torches lit these pillars, and a large, steel door
was visible a hundred yards from the rogue. Torches far off from
Raaf's left and right were unlit, causing his companions behind
him to be easily seen from an enemy on their flanks, while that
same enemy could stay hidden. Raaf had to admit it was the same
easy precaution he would perform if he was master of this lair.
Knowing the enemy had to be out there, he opened his jaw slightly, causing his eardrums to widen so he and his hearing to become more sensitive. The former assassin could hear light shuffling approaching from his left. Using the shadows, he quickly headed in that direction, then bent down, low to the ground and listened again. The shuffling was closer this time, and Raaf also heard the slight tinging sound of metal on metal. He heard multiple sounds in a wide arc in front of him, indicating either a very wide, light stepping creature or a large group. The sound continued to move to his side and receded in volume, telling the rogue that this group or creature was heading towards his fellow adventurers.
Raaf reached for a glowing stick of light that Rune had given him and tossed it in a wide arc over where he sensed the sound coming from. The stick illuminated more than three dozen walking skeletons and cadavers in armor and carrying swords. The group of them stopped, as if whoever was controlling them seemed confused to the light illuminating his forces. As he snuck back into the shadows, Raaf heard the snap of a crossbow, and two of the walking skeletons were shattered by a large crossbow bolt that pierced through them both. The group of undead began to charge the rogue's companions as another bolt tore the head off one of the running cadavers. The former assassin began to listen for other hiding groups of targets his companions would want to know about.
"Rune, can you send a light towards our other flank? I wouldn't be surprised to see us surrounded," Lord Mathias requested as he loosed a third bolt into the crowd of running undead.
Esk had made a necklace out of her Eye of Brakkart, and could feel it grow hot against her breasts as she moved to intercept the enemy group coming at her. The undead seemed to be moving in slow motion in comparison to a human, but as the Eye grew hotter, it seemed almost as if she was standing still. Her sword, which was usually light in her hands, now felt as light as a twig. Two walking cadavers lost their heads before they were even able to raise their blades in defense, and a skeleton was completely severed at the waist. One skeleton was lucky enough to hit the speeding Esk, but not lucky enough to pierce her armor.
"By the gods," Rune exclaimed. He wasn't sure what he was more amazed by, Esk's great speed or the large group of undead he had just illuminated with a ball of light he had created. The second group was only twenty meters away and approaching fast. The mage created a ball of flaming rock, as large as his head, to speed towards the second group. The ball of fire slammed into the lead skeleton, tossed it back several yards, and exploded, taking the skeleton and three more of the undead with it, but the spell drained Rune. "Mathias! You're right, we're being surrounded!"
Saint grunted in agreement as he prayed to the forces of light. As his prayer was answered, he could feel the black sphere tied around his neck grow warmer and what was normally a small beam of light became a wide ray, destroying seven of the undead Rune was attacking to their right. The priest blinked in amazement at his spell's success, but quickly came to his senses as he realized his ray had shown even more undead coming from doors being hidden by the darkness, "We have to try to make it to the far door! We can't keep this pace up!"
Lord Mathias was releasing his fifth bolt, angry as the black shaft missed the center of the undead he was aiming at, shearing off an arm instead of destroying it. "You're right," he said as he reloaded, rose from his firing position, and took several steps towards their new goal. "Go!"
Raaf could see where his comrades were heading, their progress slowed by having to fight the groups of undead coming at them. Thinking ahead, he ran to the large metal door and tried the handle, knowing it would be locked before he even reached it. It was also trapped, and a green gas shot out into the assassin's face, blinding him. Cursing his luck, and trying to blink the poison out, the former assassin reached for his tools and began to work on the lock despite his blindness.
Esk saw her comrades moving towards Raaf and the door as she lopped off another head. She realized the Eye was enhancing her speed, and decided to try and distract this group of undead to relieve their left flank. The warrioress leapt into the middle of the undead horde, dodging their hands and blades, lopping off a cadaver's leg in the process. They all began to turn on Esk, the lich controlling them thinking her trapped. She gritted her teeth and charged a skeleton with her shield, causing it to crumble under her enhanced strength and driving a gap in between her attackers that she escaped through. Blades had gotten through her armored plates, creating a small cut in her thigh and a puncture in her shoulder. It had worked, though, as they had taken their attention off her companions and onto her as Esk attacked again.
Lord Mathias' shoulder was aching from the not fully healed wound that he had suffered in the Shadow Assassin's guild and the constant reloading of his crossbow. He was slightly concerned over Esk's foolish move against the pack of undead to their left, but she seemed alright and it gave them time to concentrate the group's firepower on their right flank. The ranger, mage, and priest were now halfway to the door and attacking their enemy relentlessly.
Saint engaged a cadaver with his mace, breaking its arm with one strike and finishing it with a crushing blow to the head with the next. He prayed to the gods to give him strength, but the spell again seemed boosted by the power of the black sphere. The priest felt decades younger, striking down another skeleton with a grin from the feeling of vibrancy his body now possessed. It also made him a little cocky, and he never saw the cadaver next to him until it was too late. The priest looked up to see its sword high above its head, about to slam it down on Saint's unprotected head. The priest heard the snap of a crossbow and the loud whistle of Mathias' bolt as it slammed into the cadavers head, continued through, and embedded itself into a stone pillar. Saint quickly looked back and nodded his thanks to the ranger, promising himself to be youthful in body, but not in foolishness.
Four skeletons were getting past Saint and towards Rune, making the mage's mind race while he contemplated what spell he could cast and get off quickly. Casting his spell of invisibilty, he disappeared from the attacking undead. He smiled to himself as the skeleton's seemed confused and looked around for him. Rune took three steps back and began to recite a special anti gravity spell, turning visible as the concentration he needed to maintain invisibility was lost. The four skeletons saw their target again and began to approach him as the spell was finished, throwing them backwards in an arc so high they disappeared into the darkness above. When they landed it was with a far away crash and the sounds of bones being crushed somewhere in a far corner.
Raaf was pleased with himself as he heard the satisfying click of a lock being picked. All his concentration had been on the door, and as the rogue put his tool kits away he heard a nearby shuffling of heavy feet. The former assassin rolled backwards and ducked as the sound of a blade missed his head and tore through the air above him. Another shuffle to his right was heard and as he twisted away from it another blade sliced a gash into his chest. Raaf growled angrily and cursed his blindness as he pulled out his stilettos and got to his feet. The former assassin was trained long ago to fight in the darkness and he stopped trying to clear his eyes, leaving them closed instead and depending on his other senses. He thought he heard three nearby undead, straining his ears and trying to avoid the sounds of combat behind him. Raaf heard two of the undead closer to his right, so he decided to attack the one on his left instead, crouching down and moving quickly towards it. The rogue heard the whistle of a blade coming towards him, sounding as if it was coming overhead. He ducked and broke left, hearing the sword miss his right, and coming upwards with his stilettos. The first stiletto pierced what felt to be a fleshy arm. Figuring it must be a walking cadaver, he drove his other stiletto a foot higher and twisted, feeling it slice through chest and upwards into a neck, opening the cadaver from chest to chin. As that cadaver fell, he grabbed its sword and threw it and the sounds of the two other approaching undead, getting lucky and sounding as if he hit the one on the left. There was a sound of a body falling and struggling to remove the blade. Raaf misjudged the third attacker, expecting another cadaver. Its light step betrayed the rogue, and the thing that must have been a skeleton was closer than he thought, its blade cutting a slash in his arm before he could twist away again. Raaf backed up from it as it slashed again and again, timing the speed it was able to strike. As he heard it miss once more, he charged forward, dropping his stilettos and taking it to the ground. The skeleton under him struggled as the rogue lifted its skull up and drove it downwards into the stone floor with all his might, smashing it to pieces, and causing the creature to be still. Raaf opened his eyes to see his vision returning, but still blurry. Picking up his stilletos, he finished off the second cadaver that was writhing on the floor and opened the door.
Lord Mathias was running out of crossbow bolts, and Saint was having a hell of a time trying to keep their right flank protected when Raaf got the door open. Mathias swore as he saw that the rogue had taken some wounds, cursing himself for not keeping an eye on all his companions. "Go for the door! Esk, come on, we are out of here!" He watched as Rune cast another anti gravity spell and pointed his staff at several of the undead, tossing them high into the air. The mage then turned and ran towards Raaf and the door. Saint began to follow the mage, striking undead back as he went. "Esk! Come on!"
Esk was trying to get around the group of undead she was engaged with, and finally decided that she was going to have to cut through two of the cadavers to get by. The warrioress attacked one with a shield, cutting it in half as if it was paper, her engraved sword slicing its head in half at the same time. It fell in a heap, her sword stuck in its shield while the other cadaver attacked her. She bashed it with her shield, and it also slumped and fell. Thinking it dead, she ignored it, frantically trying to free her sword. Putting a foot on the sheared shield, Esk pulled with all her strength, freeing her blade. As she began to run towards Lord Mathias, the second cadaver plunged its blade into her calf. The warrioress' increased speed carried her a few steps before she fell with a yelp of pain. Esk quickly stood up and reached Lord Mathias who was frantically firing into the oncoming groups of undead.
Lord Mathias saw the wounded Esk trying to reach him, her thigh bleeding and dragging behind her. He took a few steps back and helped her up. "I've noticed something been speeding your movements up. Make it to the group, lass! I'll protect you, but just concentrate on making it to the door!" She nodded to him in determination, not crying out in the great pain she had to be feeling, and gritting her teeth as she half ran, half stumbled towards Saint, Raaf, and Rune. "Brave lass," he thought, admiring her. The ranger followed her, having to almost run to catch her still enhanced speed. Two cadavers approaching Esk went down as he spent two quick bolts, two more skeletons in a line were taken down with another. Mathias' shoulder felt as if was on fire, his arms never given rest from their reloading. A skeleton jumped in front of him, sword behind it ready to strike, as the ranger leveled his crossbow and fired at it point blank, causing it to fly backwards as it was destroyed. Two more cadavers stepped between him and Esk as he reached for another bolt. His heart went cold. There were no more bolts.
Lord Mathias dropped his crossbow and took a step back as he drew his mighty broadsword. Looking over the two undead he saw his companions were momentarily distracted as they were reaching for Esk. No help would be coming the rangers way. He avoided the undead's blade, and swung his broadsword, slicing the midsection of one in half. Three skeletons now joined the remaining cadaver, and the groups of undead began to close in on his flanks. Mathias' shoulders slumped in sadness. This was no place for a ranger to die. Gripping his sword tight Lord Mathias charged screaming, "For good King Brind! For Amaranth!"
Saint heard the yell and looked over his shoulder, seeing Mathias surrounded by undead. The priest started to run to the ranger's assistance when Rune grabbed his shoulder and pointed to two more groups of undead closing in on them and the door. "We have to go, Saint," the mage yelled, knowing he was right but still feeling disgusted.
Raaf went through the door first, followed by Saint and Rune. Esk protected them, limping, and her sword drawn. She looked back at Mathias as tears filled her eyes. As she shut and barricaded the door she could still here him yelling a mantra, "Raise your swords high when you think of me, lads! Raise them high!"
Sarrel had come as ordered, as
did the other undead of Redin's abode. The undead guildmaster and
the rest of the lich's legion of forces not blocked out by the
door the invading adventurer's had barricaded collected
underneath the throne. There were a few skeletons and cadavers
walking around him, but Sarrel counted mostly dreadguards in the
ranks, more than two dozen. The flesh covered Redin paced on top
of the stairs, swearing under his breath something about damned
rangers and worthless servants.
The lich's strongest servant, called the Crown Knight stood next to him, a recent creation made with the power of the black sphere. The Crown Knight was once a Defender of Amaranth, its once shiny armor and sword blackened by Redin's twisting magic. Sarrel had been a mindless guardian to Redin when the lich had performed the experiment on the corpse. The undead guildmaster watched as the knight's body disappeared, red eyes glowing with rage deep from within its now dark helmet.
Sarrel continued to mill about aimlessly, following the many examples around him, but keeping an eye on Redin for an opportunity to take the sphere. As the undead guildmaster was making another random shuffle around the area of the stairs he saw a short man in glasses quickly peek into the throne room from a side passage and disappear. "So that's what is bothering Redin," Sarrel thought. The undead guildmaster began to shuffle to the back of the small army of undead, not desiring to be the first casualty of the battle, and careful to avoid falling into the pools of water near the stairs that were part of the underground river.
It proved to be wise move. A blue haired man stepped from the corridor, pointed a staff with a crystal on the end towards the group, and cast a spell that caused pillars of flame erupt from the ground, completely consuming two of the lead dreadguards. Redin stood up and gave the silent mental command for his undead forces to surge forward, and Sarrel did so, careful to stay in the back. A red-haired female now appeared to defend the mage, sword swinging quickly as other men also entered the corridor. The undead guildmaster readied himself for a nasty battle, as he felt the lich's mind focus on directing his masses and maintaining his appearance.
Raaf's heart sank as he entered the room, even though he knew the odds would not be in their favor. Saint may have healed Esk's calf wound, and Rune may have been able to knock down two dreadguards with one spell, but there were still two dozen to go, not counting the few skeletons and cadavers. Also, there seemed to be some type of necromancer or mage on a throne, protected by a floating suit of armor with red eyes. Putting his attention back to the battle, Raaf slipped behind a dreadguard and shoved his blade into the back of its neck, destroying it before slipping back into the shadows and circling the battle again.
Even with her speed Esk was hard pressed to defend Rune as the mage tried to cast his magic. The blue haired mage also seemed to be tiring, his more powerful spells sapping his energy. The warrioress decided to fight more defensively, trying to let Rune use up his magic before having to wade into the masses. She could sense the man on the throne had the Eye of Brakkart, its energy enhancing that of her own. The man didn't look like a lich, she admitted as she wounded a dreadguard.
Saint took a bad slice in the arm after he felled a dreadguard. The priest dropped his small shield in pain and raised his wounded arm, praying for a beam of holy light to destroy his enemy. The dreadguard in front of him fell back from the beam, as if in pain, and collapsed into a pile of empty armor. Saint had to deflect another dreadguard's attack with his mace and heard the words of a spell behind him. The spell finished and a spear of ice flew into the priest's attacker, piercing its black armor and destroying it. Saint looked back and smiled at an exhausted looking Rune in thanks. He saw Raaf drop another dreadguard in front of him before the rogue went back into the shadows.
Rune had used up most of his energy in just the first thirty seconds of battle. "I've got to pace myself," the mage thought as his mind quickly thought on his options. He raised his staff high over his head just in time to block the falling blade of a dreadguard that had gotten around Saint's defense. The blue haired mage took a step backwards as the undead creature came at him again, trying desperately to gather the strength for another spell. As Rune left the protective line of Saint and Esk's weapons three more dreadguards seperated from the group, driving the mage further down the hall and away from his allies. His staff twirling again and again in an attempt to fend off his attackers.
Popple frowned unhappily.
"Alright, they definitely are going to need our help and a
lot of it. Since someone decided to foolishly declare a Circle of
Yevaud, I say we use our influence in quick succession."
As she reached down to use her powers Cade grabbed her arm and shook his head no. "He's right. They need to do this on their own. If you do use your power, he and I will not," Tigress said.
"And you ask if I'm out to help the Dark Prince and the Mad Ones. Tigress Silverclaw, may I remind you what they are up against?" Brakkart tugged testily at Gilian's leash causing her to groan.
"Tigress," Popple said gently, trying to remain calm. She did not enjoy seeing mortals in pain. "They believe in us and ask us for protection. What good are we if we don't show them why they have put their faith in us?"
Cade spoke next and ended the discussion. "What good are we if we don't have faith in them?"
Gabrielle and Deuce had made it
up the stairs from the dungeons, following the sounds of battle.
Gabrielle had decided that any enemy of the lich would probably
be helpful in letting them know the way out. The corridors they
had traveled were long, confusing , and devoid of population
either living or dead. If the forces of this structure were kept
busy in combat it would be an excellent time to flee. The fallen
angel was shocked at what she had found in the next room. She
peered from behind a throne at the back of a handsome man who
stood in front of an impressive throne, an empty blackened suit
of armor protecting him. She recognized the blackened armor as
belonging to the knight, Rosetta of Amaranth, who disappeared in
combat weeks ago. Below her, at the foot of tall stairs flanked
by a pool of water, fought Saint and Esk against a small horde of
dreadguards. Rune was slowly backing away from another group of
four, desperately trying to protect himself with his staff. Raaf
appeared out of the shadows and destroyed a dreadguard with a
stiletto to the base of its neck, but as he tried to hide again,
two dreadguards engaged at him, one slicing the rogue in the
The fallen angel could feel the large rogue next to her bristle. She watched his hands clench around his two scalpels as he took a step forward into the room. "Don't," Gabrielle pleaded, putting her hand on his chest, "It's hopeless. Don't go. We can leave this place and gather an army to return, but they're dead. Or we can just go far away, and never look back. Please, you won't survive out there with those tiny blades." Deuce's face looked surprised to her, followed by a deep understanding. The rogue smiled pleasantly at her, and she was struck by the fact that she had never seen him look happy. His eyes turned sad and the smile disappeared as quickly as it came, as Deuce touched her face gently with a cold hand and kissed her lips quickly. It was a kiss goodbye. Gabrielle didn't know what to say or do as the half-naked rogue put a scalpel in each hand and ran for the lich.
Redin was not pleased with how the battle was turning out. On the positive side of things, he was obviously winning, but he was losing too many precious dreadguards to these upstarts. It reminded him of the campaign against Grit Town before he finally wiped it off the face of the map, and anything that reminded the lich of that pimple in his life put him in a bad mood indeed. Redin was going to need all his forces against his coming conquest of Riversy.
The lich jumped in surprise as his Crown Knight picked up its blade and swung at the throne. Redin took a step back to see a rogue in torn trousers and wielding two scalpels leap from the chair and over the incoming sword. The lich realized the man was about to backstab him before the Crown Knight detected Deuce and protected its master. What was worse, the lich's guardian had cut through the throne, severing the top of the once gothically beautiful chair. "Deuce," Redin hissed in rage as his Crown Knight snagged the dodging rogue by his long hair and violently tossed him to the ground with a clatter. The tall rogue was like a bad meal, coming up at the worst moments.
Gabrielle thought to leave the stubborn man behind and get back to Riversy, but found she had to watch as Deuce attacked Redin and failed. The fallen angel watched as the rogue barely dodged his attacker once, then get tossed to the ground. She looked on and cringed when Deuce groaned in pain as the undead guardian buried its sword into his shoulder. "No. Not Lucifer's death again. That killed me inside once and I could not go through that again." The fallen angel ran forward with her blade, running it through the undead creatures side. Her sword had no effect, the Crown Knight not being of flesh and blood. Its helmet turned and looked at her for a moment, red eyes seeing into her soul. The floating suit of armor withdrew its blade from the struggling Deuce and, ignoring the harmless Gabrielle, raised its sword to finish him.
The fallen angel only knew of one thing that could kill the undead before her. She wrapped her arms around the undead guardian and summoned the powers that Popple had granted all her angels, gathering her heavenly powers to burn the evil before her. The creature twisted under the light coming from her body and caught into flames, an unholy shriek issuing from its lips and vibrating off the great throne room walls. The power began to come with its own price, and the fallen angel could feel her body unable to contain the holy light around her. Her heart broke as she saw Deuce desperately trying to reach her, despite his bloody wound. Gabrielle put her hand up to stop him else he may be harmed. The angel gave him a sad smile of assurance as she stopped her struggles and was gone, becoming one with the light.
The lich screamed in outrage. To lose his mightiest guardian to some half-baked woman with wings! Now the tall rogue ran out him with his puny scalpels and murder in his eyes. "I'll give him murder," Redin thought as he cast a bolt of force at the bleeding rogue, throwing him against the far wall and smiling at the dull sound the impact made. The lich began to approach him, thinking of the dozen ways he had to kill a disgusting thief, when he screamed in pain, a black blade sticking out of his chest. Redin fell forward, his flesh he had created disappearing under as he looked up to see a smiling, undead Sarrel standing over him.
Sarrel had waited for an opening, and left it to Deuce to give it to him. "Hey Deuce! Just like old times, hey brother!" The lich cast a nether bolt at him, not stopping the undead guildmaster at all. Sarrel smiled to himself as he slashed a gash into the skeletal Redin's flesh, seeing that being undead had some advantages, especially against a lich who specialized in necromancy.
Esk didn't know what to do. The Eye of Brakkart was letting her hold her own against the dreadguards, and Saint was holding his own despite the loss of his shield. He was bleeding badly, however, and Raaf had just taken a small cut over his eyebrows from a dreadguard. Rune was still backing away from the four that were attacking him, looking desperate and shouting for help. If the warrioress left Saint's side the priest would quickly be overrun by the dreadguards she was holding back, but if she didn't leave Raaf and Rune wouldn't last.
The blue haired mage was shouting for help, his back nearly to the far wall. "If I have enough energy to scream my head off, I have enough energy for one more spell," Rune lectured himself. Summoning his energy, Rune began to create static through the atmosphere and channel it through the crystal on his staff. His mind began to throb from the intensity his concentration of thought forced on it. The mage's vision blurred and his hair stood on end as he screamed. The arcs of lightning bolts reached out from his staff, piercing the suits of armor that stood in front of him. As the four suits of armor collapsed in a still heap, so did the mage, spent and dazed.
Redin was angry at himself for his panic. Switching to a different spell and using his black sphere's power, the lich teleknetically threw Sarrel over the the stairs and into a pillar near the battle. Redin walked down the stairs, angry at himself again for being distracted from the battle below him. It was time to end this. He raised his hands, preparing to finish the wielder of a black sphere closest to him, the pretty red-haired woman. "Pity," he thought while admiring her beauty, "she would have made a fine addition to my conquest." Redin heard a sick thumping sound and felt a weight push his skeletal body a few feet. Looking back in surprise, he saw Deuce raising his scalpels to strike again. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me," he thought in rage as he punched the tall rogue hard and watched him fall on the platform between the two pools of dark river water. The two scalpels fell from the Mercenary's hands and disappeared into the closest pool.
He watched Deuce get up in rage, and look back as one of the men fighting his dreadguards yelled, "Deuce! It's me, Raaf! Catch!" A twirling crystal dagger flew from the man's hand and was caught by the tall rogue. Deuce charged the lich again.
Redin wasn't sure what powers that dagger must possess, but felt it safer not to find out. As the rogue approached, the lich shot him with a magical arrow that vanished as it hit his chest. The lich watched Deuce gasp and stumble in front of him, pain showing on the rogue's face. Redin smiled as he grabbed the bothersome rogue by the head with one hand, and held off his stabbing dagger with the other. The lich needed energy, and Deuce would give it to him at the expense of his life. "Die!"
The spell that was supposed to burn away the rogue's life force and feed Redin didn't work, instead draining the lich's own undead energy. Redin gasped, clutching his chest as if having a heart attack. The former lord of Riversy fell to his knees as Deuce regained his strength and stood above him, grasping the lich as he raised the crystal dagger. It was as if the tall rogue had no soul. "What are you," Redin gasped in fear as Deuce plunged the blade through the top of his skull. The lich felt his body convulse as his spirit was sucked into the dagger. He staggered, convulsed, end fell into the dark pool. The last thing Redin felt was his body as it sunk into the underground river.
"NO!" Esk brushed passed falling undead as they collapsed from lack of a master. She dove into the water for the Eye of Brakkart at the same time Sarrel did. "I've been after this for years," she reminded herself as both Sarrel and her swam ever downward. She might have the advantage of sensing the other sphere's location, but Sarrel didn't have to come up for air. Esk kicked her legs hard and reached out her hand as she felt herself approach Redin's falling body. She felt the other sphere in her hands, the warrioress' mind overcome with the power two sphere's in her possession washed her with. An arm reached out behind her neck and began to choke her, causing her to thrash wildly. Sarrel stabbed her from behind with a blade, blood clouding the water and blocking out the light above her. As Esk's world began to go black she somehow had the sense to flip her engraved sword around and stab behind her, connecting with the undead Sarrel's face. Esk left the sword she had carried all those years embedded in the undead guildmaster's head and pulled out her backup knife, desperately cutting at the leather cords that held her plate mail together. As she began to suck up water and blood, the main piece of the plate armor fell away, and she kicked upwards into the light, choking out water and immediately sucking up some more.
Saint desperately watched the top of the pool of water with Raaf and Deuce, feeling the presence of a sphere approaching. A feminine hand exploded from the top, then began to slowly fall back into the depths as if Esk just could not make it the last two feet to the surface. The priest reached out and pulled hard, bringing a choking warrioress back to land. "Esk you made it," Saint said. "Oh, thank the gods! Give me the spheres so I can save Angeli!"
The priest was taken aback at the odd look Esk gave his sphere necklace, as if she didn't truly see him. "Years for this moment," she screamed as she grabbed his own artifact and with a might pull, broke the necklace off him. Saint almost cried, cheated from being able to save his wife, as Esk's body began to become translucent and gaseous. The warrioress began to come to her senses as her physical body began to disappear, asking for help and eyes scared.
Raaf had seen a lot in his days as an assassin, but nothing this spectacular and at the same time frightening. Four beings appeared suspended above them, flanking the gaseous form of what was once Esk. A tiger woman, a large man dressed in black, another man who looked like a cross between an elf and a faerie, and a gentle, older woman. "It is done," the tall man in black said, his voice booming through the halls.
"Some have done admirably," the gentle woman said with a proud smile.
"Some have done miserably," the tiger woman said with an angry scowl. She closed her eyes for a moment, then smiled to herself. Raaf wasn't sure who displeased her, but whatever friend or enemy, his heart felt for them.
"What happened," a voice asked from the swirling mist that was once Esk.
"You are a goddess now. Or a god if you want to be a man," the man in black answered. "Rejoice, for you shall know true power."
"If power gives me the knowledge I seek, so be it. But what of my friends? They have sacrificed much for your game," the mist asked.
"Brashness! Ungrateful being!" The tiger woman's tail twitched in anger.
"Disrespectful! Unworthy of godhood," demanded the man in black.
"And yet she won," the faerie being said happily.
"Yes, your champion has won, Cade," the older woman said. "And he is right about the others. My champion only wishes his wife back and that is now done. As I had saved her from death a mortal week ago, I bring her to the living now." Saint collapsed into tears for that, his feelings of loss suddenly filled with joy.
"My champion has begun his suffering for failure," the tiger woman stated flatly.
"And what of your champion, Brakkart?" Cade looked at the man in black.
"I told you. It was a tool, not a champion." The man in black rolled his eyes in frustration.
Esk was stunned by this and began to use her newfound powers. Raaf, Saint, and Rune all had an aura about them. A liveliness that beat like a heartbeat and could only be described by her as a soul. Where Deuce stood was only a void. "Brakkart, oh no. He has no soul. What have you done?"
The man in black looked angry again. "Once again you demand of your betters? You have not been fully accepted into godhood, being."
"What is going on," Esk heard Deuce ask, his grief stricken face now looking frightened. He walked past the crying priest, "I demand to know what is happening!"
Tigress laughed in surprise. "It demands! Brakkart, how did you get it to do that without wanting to destroy it? I admit it is almost cute."
Esk asked the one she now knew as Popple, "Popple, please. What is going on with Deuce."
The gentle looking goddess looked sadly at Esk. "I know you think you know that this thing is your friend, but that's untrue. Esk, the real Deuce died from a blade in his heart when he was twelve."
Esk was stunned, trying to use her powers to reach into Deuce's being and understand what he was. The thing that was Deuce actually looked frightened and alone, and it broke her heart that something without a soul could look so real she could feel it. Her own powers were suddenly blocked by the woman she now knew as Tigress.
"Stop it, fledgling!" Tigress said demandingly, "There are rules to be learned and followed! You are already breaking a few of them. Enough of this mortal land, my fellows! It corrupts our newest member."
Raaf looked at Deuce, seeing the tall rogue, or the thing, look to be at the brink of insanity. He watched Deuce got closer to the corridor, mumbling to himself about finding elven lands. A sob from Saint took Raaf's attention away, and when he looked up again there was no trace of Deuce, as if the man had never been.
"The Pantheon is training
her," Brakkart said. "They say she is a fast learner
for a fledgling, but she asks too many questions."
"I agree she is slightly impressive, but we could have done better," Tigress stated.
"Oh hush. Every immortal handles the tests differently. Shall I remind you how the two of you did when it was your time as a new god," Popple asked sweetly as she sipped the last of her tea and got scowls in return. "I do have a question before I take my leave, Brakkart. Did your creation, Deuce, have a free will or was he your puppet the whole time?"
Tigress asked, "And why did you decide to create him? Did you have a part in the death of the child he was based on? I know he didn't remember three years after the real child's death, but did he have the true memories of the real Deuce or did you create his personality too?"
"Or better yet," Cade asked, "was there ever really a Deuce to begin with or do the mortals just think there was?"
Brakkart nodded in satisfaction. "All excellent questions." He stood, enigmatic and mysterious, bidding them all a good journey back to their sanctuaries with a happy smile. Tigress simply nodded and left. Popple got together her tea set and her rabbit, Wyn. Stroking it lovingly, she also disappeared. Cade stared into Brakkart's eyes for a moment, then smiled in understanding, disappearing in a flurry of lights and a chilling laugh.
The god and master of the Iron Tower frowned to himself, troubled. Brakkart suddenly remembered what it was like to feel mortal, unknowing of the world around them, both scared and excited at the possibilities. He laid down against Gilian, grabbed her arms gently, and made her wrap them around his massive frame, holding him. Gilian seemed confused by the gesture at first. Her arms relaxed and held him lovingly in the way that women do when they realize they understand the man next to them. They stayed like that for quite some time, even for a god. Brakkart didn't understand what had just happened. He had seen a soulless being behave as a man. He had seen mortals perform miracles, and light overcome the darkest of nights. Brakkart shivered despite the warmth of hell and understood there was magic in the world of Austin even a god could not fathom.
A Note from the Author
This night marks exactly 1 month and 1 day since I first started writing fantasy, all tales dealing with Austin. I hope you enjoyed reading the stories as much as I have writing them. The characters really came alive for me, and I tried a number of experiments in Brotherhood of the Blade, Devil of Amaranth, and this, The Game of Shadows. I've learned a lot and I'm glad that I could contribute to the roleplaying atmosphere of Austin. Thanks a lot for all the support and help this last 32 days, and know that my fondest wish is that wherever Gabrielle is, she has found her wings.
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