Ned walked sullenly down the rainsoaked street. It was an empty street
lit only by dim streetlights, stars, and moonlight. The old buildings were
dark and gloomy as well, reflecting the pedestrian's mood. My house is
just a few more buildings on the right, he thought, loosely holding his
briefcase. Rainwater soaked his blue business suit, his red tie, and
rolled off the edges of his widebrimmed brown hat. His pale-skinned face
was hung low. It'd been a tough day at the office, but that wasn't what
was eating at his mind.
The only thing my brother and I have in common is our parentage. No,
it wasn't the same! The difference was that they loved him! Ned closed
the door at the top of the stairs behind him. With twitching facial
features, he opened and locked the door to his apartment behind him. It's
not fair! Why do I have to live this way! He fell to his knees, dropped
his shiny steel briefcase, and sobbed. Mom never loved me! He
passionately walked to the kitchen counter in his two room apartment and
picked up a skillet. His mind screamed with madness. Running blindly to
the bedroom, he hit himself in the head with the skillet and fell into
Ned opened his eyes groggily. His hat lay in his vision. He would've
been face down, but his head was turned to the left. The clock said 7:13
AM behind his hat. I need aspirin, he thought. Pushing himself up with
his arms, he gritted his teeth as pain wracked his back. After rolling to
his left, he staggered sleepily to the bathroom. Ned saw his face in the
mirror before he opened the mirrored cabinet above the sink. Blood covered
the left side of his face, blood that came from a wound that'd been
bleeding for months. Ned hardly noticed. Such was life. He tilted back
the cup he'd just filled and swallowed the pills. The water's touch
soothed him but not for long. Looking at his face in the mirror as he
washed the blood away, short black hair matted the sides of his head,
soaked with water that dripped into his eyes and mixed with the tears
there. Anger and hatred rushed through him. Ned's fist punched a jagged
hole in the mirror. They will die, he consoled himself, yanking his fist
form the crack and tearing his hand's skin more. Blood covered his left
hand, but he simply washed it off. As he walked to get his briefcase,h is
hand began bleeding again. Ned picked up the skillet and smashed it into
the now even more cracked counter as he walked out to work.
When he arrived at the desks with the other workers who had theirs in
the same room, he ate breakfast from a coin operated machine along with
caffeine free coffee. I am of the IRS, Ned thought. We are invincible.
Once they're dead, I can live my own life and unburden the hatred from my
mind. He began humming as he shuffled IRS forms on his desk.
Once his workday ended, evening had already come. Ned stopped by the
hardware store that calm night. He looked over everything, already knowing
what he wanted but open to suggestions. You'll both burn together, he
decided, leaving with rope, nails, a hammer, lighter fluid, and a remote
Ned opened his apartment door and locked it behind him. He went for
the skillet, but this night he was neither enraged or sorrowful. He was
confident, and he confidently wrapped his fingers around the skillet's
handle, felt the cold metal against his warm skin, and put it in his
cluttered shiny briefcase. He then got a can of deodorant and left for
"Hello," she said and then nearly gasped as she saw her son. "Hello
dear, is something wrong?" She was patient and seemed ready to listen.
Ned bit back a screaming, "Yes! You're not apologizing for never paying
me the slightest attention you bitch!"
"I just felt I'd come over and say hello."
"Well, come inside." Ned sat down on the couch and his mom sat down to
his left. "How's your job?"
"It's going fine. Could you call Ed? I have something to tell both of
you." His mom turned in her blue dress, turning her dark hair and face from
"Sure," she said. The answer didn't matter to Ned, he'd looked up his
brother's number while at work and could have made the call. "Good evening,
your brother's come to visit. We'd really like to see you... We'll be
here." Ned opened his briefcase away from her before she hung up the phone
Stupid bitch, time to sleep. He lashed out with the skillet in his
right hand. She noticed it a half second before it hit her. Ned was
satisfied by the bang that rang out as she fell backward. He dragged her
to the wall across from the couch. Now you die.
One knock on the door opened it as Ned had planned when he'd opened it
an inch. From the shadows, he saw Ed in the doorway scream, "Mom!" He ran
over in his striped shirt and jeans to his unconscious mom tied against the
wall by ropes nailed to it. He began trying to untie her.
Go to hell for the hell you've caused me. Ned pressed his remote
control and grinned. The lighter ignited the lighter fluid covering his
mother, engulfing her in flames and burning Ed's hands.
"No!" Ed screamed and the can of deodorant exploded on his mom, blowing
shrapnel into him. Half-blinded he yanked on his mother to pull her free.
Ned charged Ed from behind with the briefcase held in both hands in a
striking position. Ed turned around looking like he knew his mom was dead
for his face was grim and had an expression which told Ned that Ed wanted
to hurt him. "Burn in hell!" Ned yelled at him. Ed muttered something
incoherent, and beams of coherent light flashed from his right blackened
hand and seared a hole halfway through Ned's left shoulder. Ned's hatred
drove his metal bludgeon into Ed's head with a delightful crack and splash
of blood. Ed slumped dead to the floor with a thud.
Shocked, Ned stumbled into the next room, grasping at his unbleeding
cauterized shoulder in panic. In the dim room was visible a pentagram
drawn on the floor and a dresser with mirrors and satanic horned animal
skulls. Horrified, he turned to flee, but the door slammed shut before he
could grab it. His mind ran in circles. The witch and apprentice are
dead. What is this? Demons? Or was my brother just a satan worshipper. No
When he turned, the twisted-horned ram-like skull opened and hit him
with a red beam. Ned tried to dodge but was held in terror. He dropped
the bloody briefcase and cried out to God as he felt his body twist and
change. In the mirror, he saw his skin blacken, and horns punctured out
from underneath his flesh. His next moments were lost in torment. The
next thing he knew, he was running. People passed close to him in the
halls but were slammed into the walls. Mindlessly, yet aware of his
hideousness, he fled from the apartment building into the dark streets.
Using his clawed hands, he flung away a manhole cover, dived in, and ran
insanely into the strange mists.
Chapter Two: The Reborn
By Tony Figueroa
Herman Berkonut, newly elected counter coroner, looked down at the dead
body on the wheeled metal table in the small metal room lined with shelves
and two single-door entrances directly across from each other. One of
these doors, which was behind behind Herman, locked without him noticing.
A form visible through the door's single translucent cellular window left.
The body ws of an old balding man with white hair and a wrinkled gray face
adorned by a hawklike nose above two colorless lips. His scalpel bit into
the abdomen's aged skin with a sickening sound that didn't affect him. As
he extended the cut, his slicing blade caught on something. He maintained
a delicate hold on the scalpel with his left hand.
A segmented tentacle shot out of the inscision and wrapped around his
forearm. Herman jerked backwards, terrified, but he only succeded in
pulling the corpse into a sitting position. The lifeless head rolled
around on the neck, and then its mouth opened with a crackling sound.
Pulled forward by Herman running for the door he was next to, the corpse
struck at him with the mandibles that had emerged its the head. Needle-
sharp teeth flashed and part of Herman's left upperarm sleeve was torn off
along with part of his skin. Herman struggled frantically at the door
handle with his right hand. The creature attached to his left forearm
continued attacking and now buried its teeth into his left shoulder,
clenching its jaws. Panicking, he grabbed ahold of its dead human host's
head and attempted to slice the tentacle with the scalpel held in the hand
of the arm being constricted by the appendage protruding from the small cut
in the corpse's pale flesh. His scalpel continually failed to slash the
seemingly armored tentacle. Spying a jagged edge on the shelf to his left,
Herman decided it was his only hope and charged it with the back of the
head biting his shoulder. A grisly grinding sound entered his ears as its
head was impaled upon the lethally sharp piece of lab equipment. The thing
relaxed itz tentacle and mandibles, however, severe pain jolted Herman's
bitten shoulder. Almost grinding his teeth to dust, he carefully slid his
shoulder off the metal instrument that had pierced it after penetrating the
dead man's head. He whimpered like a madman while removing the needle-like
toothed maw from his shoulder and untangled the tentacle from his arm.
Sprawled on its back, the corpse was a horrid sight.
In agony, Herman struggled to the antiseptic and tried to fix his
savaged shoulder. He called for help and then heard monstrous whispers
from the door he'd reached for during the encounter. A form became visible
through the translucent cellular glass.
"Herman," the form said softly and then added in a hideous tone, "are
you alright?" Berkonut backed away from the maniacal voice, continuing to
whimper. Determined to live, he went to the other door, grasping his
shoulder and clenching his teeth. "Herman!" The voice screamed. The
blonde-haired coroner in his mid-thirties opened the other door and locked
it behind him as quietly as possible for his rapid pace. Blood stained his
now half removed operating gown and blue suit underneath. I can't say,
"Please no, I've got a wife and family," he thought because he didn't have
either. The thirty-seven year old man with light blue eyes walked rapidly
up the hall, dimly lit by a pale light bulb every twenty or so feet. The
gray unornamented walls did nothing to enhance the gloomy setting. Many
unvaried metal doors lined the hallway that turned a corner at each end.
They said not to bother with the autopsy, he recalled. He tried a door,
and it was locked. They said the mayor died from natural causes. Well
that's not fucking natural! Herman tried another door, and it opened into
a small room with a desk and some shelves. The most eye-catching feature,
however, was the dead man on the floor between the desk and the chair. The
silent scream frozen on his face was more disturbing than the fact that
he'd been over halfway torn in half at the waist. Berkonut slammed the
door and ran down the hallway, finding that all the doors he tried were
locked. When he came across the fire alarm at the right corner, he set it
off and grabbed the fireman's axe, ignoring the extinguisher. The sound of
breaking glass echoed form down the hall, behind him.
Herman found the elevator wouldn't work for him, and so, he took the
stairs. Frustration began gnawing at him when all the doors he tried were
found to be locked as well. Finally, he reached the end. The door opened,
and the blowing winds, city sounds, and starlight sky greeted him, as did a
man's begging pleas. It was his assisstant.
"Alfred!" Berkonut screamed.
"I don't care," came a soul-wrenching statement that echoed against the
"No!" Alfred cried out, his words trailing off into an abyss of
Herman learned true despair as he saw his co-worker and friend be
shoved from the top of the seventeen-story building. The thirteen-foot
tall lizard thing transfixed its red eyes on Herman. Its black pupils
narrowed. Aiming two-foot long black fingernails from his claw at the
coroner, it said in its previous tone, "Too bad for you, but Olson says you
"What the hell are you!?" Herman screamed so loud it burned his lungs.
He thought the question's phrasing was appropiate.
"You can call me Ned if you need to before I kill you." It strode
forward, its talons and tail lashing the cement roof.
Unknown to Herman, four grim-faced individuals now stood at the
stairway's roof entrance. The most dominate of the two women among them
cracked a smile.
"Why are you doing this!?" Berkonut advanced with his axe in a two-
"Its time for the rocor to rule. Then I can be among friends."
"Die, Ned!" Herman charged and swung his axe. Ned caught it with one
hand. The other grabbed Herman.
"You're boring," said Ned. It then removed Berkonut's shoulder wound
by biting off his arm. With it only half swallowed in the corner of its
mouth, Ned ignored Herman's deathcry and said, "Have fun." Ned used its
right arm to grab the coroner by the leg and hurl him at the side of an
adjacent office building.
Airborne, Herman continued his deathcry, and his left side sprayed his
blood to the winds. He didn't hear the horrified reactions for he died
shattering the window. His crumpled form created a heap at the head of the
executive meeting's table.
Ned briefly glanced at the axe he held before throwing it after Herman.
The executives of the adjacent building made their horrified reactions
again, but this time, one less was able to react.
By Tony Figueroa
Chapter 3: The Twisting Touch
The town of Talboria was silent. That night, the moon rose, and the
stars fell. The heavens retreated from the growing darkness as the town
that had forsaken them became the nexus that the dark powers craved. Evil
moved in and tightened its noose around what little faith remained in the
far removed town. Strangling off goodness, the nexus completed itself.
Whatever good remained was not powerful enough to break the dark tendrils
of evil that now encircled the land.
Looking out across the forested continent of Zinx, the geomancer saw a
white light in the distance. The brightness darkened, and he felt his ties
to the land shattered. He tried tapping the magic energies and evil
consumed him. Blackening his soul beyond redemption, the powers tempted
him and succeeded. Having grasped his chance for what seemed like
unlimited power to him, Mikalea gazed across the landscape and felt his
control of it strengthened.
That night, a girl child was born to the young couple in Talboria. A
priest from the Church of Light had come to bless the infant, yet when he
looked upon her he sensed the hatred of which the baby was made. He tried
to move his hand to bless the child, and a force stopped him. His mind
reeled in turmoil as he tried to think of a possible explanation. After
simply looking, he left.
When the morning rose, the priest learned that illness had claimed more
of his fellow priests and acolytes. By noon, news came to him that the
parents had named their child Valtanna. Going into the sanctuary, he
kneeled and prayed. Time lost its meaning to the priest. Visions came to
him, and he saw a cataclysm. Many died. The one responsible: the girl
child. Night fell once more. Early the darkness was again that evening.
There were no stars to light the world, and the moon seemed somehow
menacing. As if at any moment, it would fall to crush all in its path.
Under that sky without the starlight, he reluctantly came to know what must
Sneaking through the window, he approached the cradle. The wind
outside increased, and curtains flapped madly. Drawing the silver knife
from his robes, he looked down at the child sleeping soundly. Doubt
entered his mind, but he fought it off. The thoughts persisted. He
resisted. It became a screaming in his mind. Holding a hand to one ear,
he raised the knife above the child and plunged the blade down. Valtanna's
eyes opened wide, and her hand seized his wrist. The crushing force of the
infant snapped the bones of his hand and arm. He opened his mouth to
scream, but no sound came forth. His head jerked to the right. Extreme
pain shot through his nerves. His spine produced snapping sounds as he
involuntarily looked over his shoulder. The pressure forced his head
around farther, and flesh ripped. Blood sprayed out in a shower as his
head spun around. Blood dripped from the walls. With a thud, the head hit
the floor and rolled. Valtanna released the priest's hand, and the body
slumped and smashed into the floor. Her eyes closed, and she drifted off
Twenty-one years later, Talboria was prosperous. The high-priestess of
the Church of Light had seen to that. It was said that the gods themselves
had protected Valtanna, high-priestess, from a possessed priest when she
was just an infant. She'd married the palladin who had destroyed those who
would threaten the community. Now, she knelt in the dark recesses beneath
the Church. Arcane symbology lay beneath her. These runes began to glow
as her incantations increased in speed. Illuminating her near-black violet
robes inlaid in similar symbols, the runes transported her deeper.
"Welcome," said the form before her. She rose and looked him over
through her overhanging silky black hair. Scaldetec's form was hideous.
The demonlord was hunched over, the scorpion tail eternally poised for
striking. The many legs twitched as he began to speak. A shimmer passed
over his glassy eyes from the fading light of the summoning circle. When
the light faded out, neither paid the fact the least bit of heed. They
needed no light. "This tomb is a marvelous place, Valtanna. Your husband
did well in acquiring it. Thank him for me if you manage to convert him."
"I'm afraid his connection to the heavens is still strong, Scal. His
presence is all that prevents my grasp over the whole town. I shall have
him dead by the nexus's next pulse."
"No, wait for the arrival of the new servant. Let Falsayer live until
then. I have plans for bigger things than this town alone. I draw power
from the pressure the opposing powers force on the people. Once the new
spawn arrives, I can feed off his soul for centuries. After that, do with
Falsayer and the rest of the town as you will."
"As you wish," Valtanna said, her voice a tone that could soothe the
fiercest of creatures, save the one before her. "Farewell," she whispered,
energizing the circle and reappearing beneath the church. Climbing the
steps up into the temple, she reversed her robes to the white of the Church
Entering her chambers, she found her husband soundly asleep, the sleep
she'd imposed over him assured that he wouldn't awake to find her gone.
After disrobing, she slipped into bed beside him. Wrapping her arms around
him, she fell asleep herself. That night, like so many before, nightmares
plagued the town while the priestess slept soundly.
By Tony Figueroa
Chapter Four: Druids of Fire
In a small isolated community, a police station was having water
problems on a calm summer night. God am I thirsty, Chief Winson thought as
he left the tree surrounded station for the water fountain in the parking
lot. This one had better work, the chief hoped. He bent down to press the
button and take a drink. The leeches shot out rapid-fire sliding in under
his eyelids and down his throat. Flailing madly, he couldn't vocalize a
cough due to his blocked throat. Winson pulled the gun from his holster
and fired into the air. Cops came running. The first to arrive stared in
horror as Winson ripped at the bloodsuckers covering his face, tearing his
eyes in the process.
The officer gaped open-mouthed down at his captain, unable to utter a
word. Hoping to find something of use in his car, preferrably salt, he
rushed over to it, leaving the other officers to try pulling off the
leeches or run back into the station. Officer Dirk Morlyn skidded to a
halt before his car. It was mummified in foliage. Vines and weeds had
broken the cement around the automobile, covering it so much that the car
itself was hardly visible. He plunged his hand with the key into the
vegetation. Searching for the lock, something slithered up his sleeve.
Fear hit him hard. The thing stung him, painfully. Moving quick as
liquid, the swarm engulfed him. Slithering and stinging, the centipedes
made quick work of him. Morlyn dropped to his knees and then fell forward,
slumping against the car with his hand still on the key in the lock. The
centipedes continued to sting, crawling through his hair and clothing.
Olson be damned, Ned thought, watching from the trees and bushes. The
police station appeared to be turmoil. This is where I sensed the calling.
If only I could locate it exactly, I wouldn't have to do this. Ned left
the bushes and prowled towards the station's right wall. I guess I can
attribute this wonderful diversion courtesy of whatever force it was that
brought me here.
The officer at work inside looked frantically through his desk and then
heard a low growling at outside the window. Drawing his gun, he fired the
moment the glass shattered. Landing within the station was a huge black
reptillian creature with a huge mouth gaping open and revealing the long
razor-edged teeth. The officer fired again, but Ned simply drew back its
arm and thrust his hand forward into the face of the man. Wrapping his
clawed fingers about the officer's lower jaw, Ned ripped it out, blood
jetting from the arteries. Ned then stabbed the man in the eyes with his
own lower jaw. He fell backward, his jaw having crushed his skull. Ned
turned, his tail lashing the desk across room, and moved to what seemed to
be a presently uninhabited portion of the station. Upon finding a
computer, Ned accessed the files and looked for anything seeming to relate
to what he could be looking for. The sound of returning cops clomped
closer, and the ambulance sirens could be heard outside. Ned willed
himself invisible and continued his work.
Soon, the sound of police in the building grew closer. I think it's
time to depart, Ned decided. He took a step and fell with a crash. The
chair next to the console skittered across the small office-sized room.
This invisibility drains me too much, he growled to himself. It ain't
worth it. Staggering out of the station, he shoved a few cops out of the
way and smiled as they backed off in fear of the unseen force.
"It leads down there." The law officer said, aiming the flashlight
down into the hole that had been dug up in the pavement the morning after
next to the water fountain. Sunlight couldn't illuminate the dark recesses
of the the crevasse the jackhammer had created.
"I know that! Assemble a team and investigate. It looks to me like it
could be answer. Leeches don't shoot out of fountains for no reason."
"Yes, Sir!" Officer Ben snapped to attention, peering down into the
hole with the flashlight a final time before turning towards the station to
gather some volunteers. The only light down there came from the battery-
powered light in his hand. The sunlight either couldn't or wouldn't reach.
It was the latter idea that worried him.
In a few hours, a team of twelve gathered. What they had to go on
wasn't much. It was nothing. After descending down on a rope, they looked
about and saw a cavern passage.
"What's a cave doing here?" One asked dumbfounded.
No one answered. A few didn't voice their opionions about not wanting
or caring. Another few expected the others to answer. The remaining one
was just worried of encountering not previously recorded lethal centipedes
like the ones that caused one of the deaths less than a day earlier. He
put his hand on his holster and then wished he'd brough some Raid.
They proceded down the cavern passage cautiously. The clop of their
shoes on the wet rock echoed as did the dripping of water. Invisible and
weak, Ned followed, hoping to find what'd drawn him to the area. After a
while, one of the cops thought they heard something.
"Do you hear that?"
The flock of birds came careening around the corner, ramming into the
officers with their beaks. Curses, the flapping of wings, and howls of
pain became a raucous symphony that echoed throughout the cave. The birds
passed on, and the officer in the rear swung at them as they left. Moaning
was heard, and they turned to face three of their brethren who held their
faces, blood streaming from their eyesockets.
"Dear, God," said their leader. "We're turning back to get these men
to a hospital!" Men rushed to help the blinded. While the fearful one,
gripping the magnum before him, lifted an ear to hear better down the
"I hear chanting," he said. A clatter of rocks sounded behind the
team. "Who's there!" He screamed and saw nothing but his fellow officers.
Ned raised his claw with a thrust into the cavern ceiling. Rocks
sprayed downward. He fought to control himself but felt confused. Part of
him relished the idea of hunting the trapped men down below the earth while
the other part hoped for a brief second that he would never get out.
Regaining his compusure, he thrust his taloned hand up again, and an
avalanche of rocks collapsed to block the passage. Leaning against the
newly formed wall, he couldn't suppress the laughter. "HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!
The cop with the gun fired at the laughter. "Stop!" His leader
commanded. "You'll hit US with the ricochet!" He turned to the group.
"Let's go. There's bound to be an exit down this way." Disheartened and
angry, they followed their leader, the sightless moaning.
The chanting grew louder, and the tunnel widened. Before them was a
massive cavern chamber. Banners and flags hung from the walls. Burning
pyres were assembled in four corners, and people were draped in red and
black robes. Their backs were to the small tunnel entrance, and their
chanting was directed at one in black robes and on a high pedastel. To his
left, hung a ring of fire suspended vertically in mid-air. A black beast's
horrible visage was shining in the center.
The police were at a loss for words, but their leader's speachlessness
was slowly being counteracted by the presence of his bleeding blind
friends. "Well what are we waiting for? An exit's gotta be here." He began
his way into the crowd. "Excuse me. Pardon me. Where's the exit?"
A robed man in red robes stepped in his way. He overturned his hand to
reveal a burning palm. It was only then that he realized that the chant
had begun changing to something meaningful to him. "Kill them," it said. A
hundred voices repeated over and over, "Kill them. Kill them. Kill them.
Kill them." Ben drew his .44 Desert Eagle and fired into the man's face.
"Aaaaaa!!!," He wailed, falling backward with a trickle of flame
hanging in air as it left the hole in his forehead. He no longer blocked
the path, but the rest of the congregation did. The rest of the cops
opened fire. The robed men converged, those in their front ranks being
shot down as their fire spells arced through the air. Tree roots from the
cavern ceiling shot downward towards the cops to encoil three. The tree
roots raised them high as they fired back, trying to break free and defend
"You...," Ned hissed, his invisibility gone and his strength returning.
The image in the flaming circle beckoned him.
Come to me, he heard it say.
"Arrrrr...," Ned charged leaping up into the ring of flame forty feet
high and dissapeared. The sounds of the battle trailed off into silence in
Ben made his way to the pedastal with the ring hanging near it. A
terrifying monster had just leaped through it with no problem at all. A
spray of blood rained down from above. The tree limbs had ripped one his
men apart. A drop of blood from the spray trailed down his cheek as he
pulled the trigger, dropping a black robed druid on the stairs to the
pedastal's top. "Follow me!" The cop yelled to his rear in case any of his
men still lived. He charged forward, and the high priest moved to
"Not so fast," the priest said from beneath the black cowl. With a
flip of his wrist, seven black beams of light flew from his hand to strike
the cop at the top of the stairs. The beams pierced his chest and burst
from his back. Ben screamed but didn't fall back. Raising his pistol, he
staggered forward. Flame from the priest engulfed him, but he still pulled
the trigger. Amazement and fear crossed the druid's face before the bullet
tore the hole in his forehead. Brains splattered out the back of his head
and slid down the rear of the robe. As the priest fell, Ben ran to the
circle, his brown hair beginning to singe. This is the only exit, he
thought as his flaming body lept from the pedastal through the circle.
Blackness cloaked his conscioussness, black as dark as the beams that'd
formed cauterized wounds through his body.
By Tony Figueroa
Chapter Five: The Church of Light
Ben opened his eyes, and pain shot through his nerves. Rising, he saw
that he was in a forest. The night sky overhead lit the area with stars
and moon. A plethora of stone slabs surrounded a hole in the ground,
containing stone stairs leading down. The fact that he was no longer
burning was a minor condolence. Shaking, he made his way into the night,
hoping to come across anything.
"We're almost to the city," Maina told her companion as they made their
way through the woods. The moonlight glittered off her chainmail,
accentuating the curves of the body made strong from years of combat.
"I see it," Warath replied. His red robes parted in the front to
reveal his leather armor. "I also see someone approaching us from the
"There," he said, pointing his finger. "He doesn't seem to be doing too
well either." Warath changed direction and headed for the man.
"Wait!" Maina ran after him. As they got close to him, Maina still
couldn't make out any details in the darkness, but the man looked bad
Warath could see perfectly. A simple eye adjustment was all it took.
Ben saw two figures approaching. Either they were friendly or he was
dead. He allowed them to get within ten feet before saying, "Help me."
"It's alright," Warath said, and Maina rushed to the man's side. That
was when Ben noticed the red robes.
"Stay back!" Ben screamed, aiming his pistol at Warath.
Warath concentrated on him for a second while scutinizing the man and
drawing his own red cloak before him to shield himself from whatever manner
of weapon it was the man carried.
Something clicked in Ben's head, and he lost conscioussnes once more.
With a thump, he impacted into the forest floor.
"I did that," Warath explained to Maina. "Let's get him to town.
They're bound to have a healer there."
The church was huge. A single spire rose from the front high into the
sky. Even in the lights of night, the shining sunbursts designed into it
reflected brightly. Maina and Warath dragged Ben up the seven stairs to
the doors, and then pushed them open. The metal doors flew inward, and
they walked on in.
Laying the man down on a bench, Warath went to go ring the bell in
hopes that some priest would answer. Maina's eyes went wide as she saw
Ben's wounds in the light of the church's lanterns. The uniform,
presumably a soldier's, was unrecognizable, partially because she'd never
seen its kind before and partially because it was charred by fire.
"Look at this," she said to her companion.
"My God," he replied, noticing the holes burnt through the man's chest.
"Someone rang?" Asked the priest coming into the light while tying his
robe about him by the rope.
"This man needs healing," Maina answered.
After approaching and looking down at the injuries, he shook his head
and outstretched his hand to Maina, "600 gold."
"What?!" Warath gasped.
Reaching into his pouch, Warath took out the coins, counted them with
agitation, and handed them over.
"Bring him to the table." Maina and Warath lifted up the patient and
carried him over to where the priest had specified. This must be the
Church of Pennypinchers, Warrath concluded. I must've missed that sign out
Praying to above while laying his hands upon the wounds. A light
issued forth from his fingers, and the wounds began to close. Warath held
Maina close as they watched the long process.
Drawing back, the priest rose and turned to them. "Take him." With
that, he turned and headed for his chambers. They were speechless until
the cleric was out of sight. "Does he have any money for a room?"
"I'll check," Maina said, going through his pockets. "Nothing, just a
bunch of this worthless looking stuff."
"Let's take him to the inn. I'm tired now, but I'll want to hear his
story in the morning."
"I guess we'll have to pay for the extra room too."
"We can talk to him about repayment later. He'll stick around. Keep
that metal weapon of his. I doubt he'll leave without it if it's
The next morning, Warath and Maina attended the church service. It was
a strange service they noticed. Although the high priestess was present,
she refrained from much speaking. A handsome palladin in golden armor
matching his blonde hair led the prayers and hymns. The lesser priests and
acolytes in the background were pretty much equal in activity. When the
service reached its end, the priestess led the closing. Warath and Maina
learned the story behind the priestess and palladin afterwards from someone
else who had attended.
"I'm not sure I like this town."
"What's the matter, Rath?"
"The only good I could sense in that church was the palladin. Everyone
else I couldn't sense anything from. Something's definitely wrong here."
"We can tell it to the others when they arrive. Let's find something
to pass the time while we wait. Who knows? Maybe the stranger'll know
something," the swordswoman said. She then led Warath off into town.
Maina watched the scene from the top arena row. Dodging a blast of
flame from the chimera, the fighter moved in from the right and brought his
sword down hard on its neck. The beast buckled but rose again to slash the
warrior's chest with lion claws. Stepping back while grabbing his bleeding
pecs, he brought his sword back up. The chimera leaped. Thrusting upward,
the sword caught the monster in the stomach. But still, it continued to
fight, slashing as it slid down the blade. A flurry of blows exchanged,
and both lay sprawled on the ground afterwards. And a moment later, he
rose, raising his blade in triumph, the sunlight reflecting off it even
after it was stained by red smears. He then fell unconsciouss from blood
"Not a bad fight," Maina commented.
"He survived the chimera. Therefore, he musn't be completely useless."
Arriving back at the inn, they spied Ben pacing back and forth before
the building. "Greetings, I see you're consciouss again," Warath said.
"YOU! Who are you, and where am I?!"
"I am Warath, and this town is Talboria. What is your name?"
"Why did your people kill my men?!" Ben accused, ignoring the question.
"I don't have any people, sir. Who were your men? I don't recognize
"This whole town is strange. This is Earth isn't it?"
"This is Zinx."
"Where's that?" Ben demanded, fuming. This has got to be a dream, he
decided. I'll just play it out 'til the end I guess.
"It's everywhere. It's the land. You must have travelled far, or did
some dark force bring you here?"
"I think some dark force would fit best," he said, uncomfortably.
Drawing his arms around himself, recalling the brutal slaughter. "They wore
"I suppose many do. That doesn't make me one of them."
"I guess you're right. Have you seen my gun?"
"What's that? Oh, you mean your short weapon."
"I have it here," Maina said, drawing it forth. "What's it do anyway?"
"It's dangerous," he said, putting out his hand to recieve it.
"We paid heavily to heal your wounds. Would you by any chance have
currency to cover that?" Spoke the red-robed one.
"Only this," Ben said, pulling out some dollar bills.
"I'm afraid that's no good here," Warath replied.
"Didn't think so."
"Here you go," Maina said, handing back his pistol.
"May I ask where you come from?"
"We've come from Randarsharav to see what kind of place that town's
clergy is coming to visit. We were asked to guard them. The rest of our
band is travelling with them."
"Could you use an extra man for awhile? I could repay you with my
"I don't see why not," Warath said, cupping his chin in his fingers.
"Meet us here at dusk tonight. That's when the caravan arrives."
As Ben reentered the inn, Maina asked Warath, "Do you think we can
"I don't sense anything evil about him. Anyway, having him around will
let us keep an eye on him."
As the sun drifted below the horizon, the three met outside the inn,
and began heading towards the caravan just outside of town. Still dressed
in the burnt clothes he'd appeared in, Ben was trying to figure out how to
ask people he was already in debt to for money for clothes.
"Look at the sunset," Maina said, gazing at the multi-colored sky.
"Very nice," Warath replied.
Looking at it for a moment, Ben noticed something. "How many suns are
Warath and Maina looked at each other for a moment before turning and
Ben was beginning to comprehend the seriousness of his predicament.
Either this is a dream, or I'm going insane, he told himself. Whatever the
case, he decided to go along with it until he could do something about it.
Leaves and dead branches crunched underneath their boots as the caravan
of trailers pulled by horses appeared into sight just beyond the next line
of trees. By that time, dusk had given way to night.
A scream pierced the darkness. Shattering glass flew from a window of
one of the trailers, and a man's head hung limply out the jagged hole,
dangling from the shoulders located behind the wall. On the other side of
the clearing, an unseen woman in flowing dark violet robes watched from the
treeline, listening to every scream. Moonlight shimmered off the silver
embroidered along the hems of her garb.
Charging forward to the trailer door, Warath threw it open to see a
large black beast slashing his claws through a parrying priest. Blood flew
from the wound, staining the white cloth with red from the mortal wound.
Dead lay about everywhere. Some were priests. Some were obviously
fighters. Of both, little remained standing. One in brown leather hurled
a knife at the beast. The blade sunk in, and the beast's tail lashed out
to knock over its assailant. It then dove in with a fanged mouth gaping
open large enough to swallow half of its prey. Flames arced through the
air and cut deep into the creatures black flesh, turning its attention from
the prone knife-flinger to Warath with his fiery sword.
His blazing longsword held tight, he concentrated on the monster's
conscioussness but failed to knock it out. The monster, nearly twice his
size, moved in on him in a second as did Maina with a two-handed flamberge,
charging straight at the charging beast. Hefting up the heavy barrel of
the .44 Desert Eagle, Ben fired off a shot into the beast's head. Black
ooze flipped into the air as the cranium jerked back on its neck. A moment
later, an undulating curved blade hacked its way into its chest as Maina
swung her sword.
The creature was stepping back, and the few remaining clergymen cowered
against the wall, praying that the claws of the demon wouldn't claim them
next. Flaming spheres flew across the distance from Warath's hand to
strike the beast and enfulf it in fire. The creature ran as Ben fired
again. Maina tried to clutch at her ears to shield herself from the sound
of the gun, but her experience wouldn't let her release her sword.
The woman watching from the trees dissapeared into the shadows as she
watched the back of the trailer explode outward. Her servant, albaze, ran
off into the woods in the direction of the tomb.
"That was it!" Ben screamed, charging after the killer. Once out of
the trailer, he fired shots into the woods after the diminishing light of
the dashing pyre.
"Dexler! What about the rest?" Warath asked, looking about and seeing
the dead of their band.
"I'm the only one," admitted the red-haired knife-flinger reluctantly,
rising from the floor. Clenching his fist, he seethed, "It simply appeared
in our midst like it was rising from the floor. Before we could raise our
weapons, it killed half of us."
"It got the other trailer too," said one of the priests no one had seen
leave, returning to the trailer's door. He slumped to the floor, grieving
over the loss.
Ben climbed back in. "I lost it," he said, anger apparent in his tone.
"We should hunt it down before it kills again," Warath said.
"Maybe I know where it's gone," Ben thought aloud.
"Where?" Maina asked.
"I followed it here through the same rip in the air. I appeared near a
bunch of rocks with symbols on them around a hole leading into the ground.
Maybe that's where it's gone if the rip took us to the same place."
"Can you lead us there?" Asked Dexler.
"No," said Ben, realizing he had no idea where that was. "It was near
where you rescued me. Can you take us there?" Ben said, motioning to Maina
"Maybe," the mage said. "Let's give it a shot." Determined to find and
kill what had already slaughtered so many, the four stormed off into the
"These are runes alright. The place looks ancient," said Warath,
running his hands over the slabs surrounding the stone stairway leading
deep into the ground. "I'll lead the way," he said, descending the steps
and drawing his flaming sword from the magic scabbard. "I'm carrying the
The footsteps echoed off the stone stairs, creating the impression of a
large emptiness below. From the bottom of the stairs, it could be seen
that the dark uncared for stone passage continued forward without stop for
as far as the eye could see. "Let's go," Warath said, marching forward. The
others followed, weapons drawn. Dexler was coating his blade in a green
liquid and put the leather case away when satisfied.
"What's that stuff?" Ben asked.
"My poison had no immediate affect on that monster. I'm hoping this
will be more effective," Dexler replied. Ben also noticed the warhammer
hanging from his belt. Must be his back-up plan, he thought.
With a thud, Warath hit an invisible barrier. "What is it?" Asked
Maina, rushing up.
"A wall," he replied.
Out of the darkness head, a form shambled forward. The three-headed
humanoid had the heads of ravens and a body like a dark statue. "You cannot
pass," it hissed and glared at the party. Maina gasped and doubled over as
if punched in the stomach. Warath held out a hand and spoke an
incantation. The invisible wall shimmered and dissapeared.
Growling, the demon glared at Warath who cried out in pain and
staggered back. Growling herself, Maina charged forward and took a long
swing with her flamberge to cross the gap between her and the scaled raven.
It raised an arm to parry, but Maina's blade sliced off the tips of its
claws and sliced into its rocky scaled flesh.
A scream to their rear issued forth as Dexler attempted to move into
melee range. Now, a shadow gripped him underneath each armpit and struck
out with its fangs. Ben ran to his aid and fired his pistol into the
creature's face at point blank range. The shot passed through the three-
dimensional shadow harmlessly.
As Maina raised her sword once again, one of the raven heads noticed
Warath repeating the same incantation. Ignoring Maina, it lashed out with
its claw, causing a wall of fire to burst into existance and streak down
the passage at the mage. Shielding himself with his arms, Warath repelled
the spell and the flames passed over him harmlessly. The power forced him
back nonetheless. The slightest slip, and the flames would burn him to a
cinder. Carefully, he walked out of the fire wall, and resumed the
Maina's blade caught the raven demon in one of its chins, hacking off
the middle head which had failed to duck. The eyes of the right head
flashed a sickly green, causing the swordswoman to clutch her stomach as
the bile rose up her throat. A repeating clanking began getting closer.
Not turning her head to see what would approach from the darkness, Maina
raised her hands clutching the sword hilt above her head and aimed the
blade downward to skewer the demon.
Warath's spell was completed just as he saw a form wearing black
spiked platemail emerge from the darkness behind the scaled raven and
Maina. The figure held a dark mace in the left hand and a flaming sword in
the right. Before Maina's sword fell, Warath's dispell magic incantation
took effect. Screaming, the raven's eyes blanked out after flashing for a
brief second. It then fell like a statue that'd been shoved and shattered
into rocky fragments. As the helm on the armored figure opened its maw,
the entire corridor's temperature plummeted. An icy blast issued forth.
Rocketing out into a cone, it approached with a roar.
"Look out!" Warath screamed. All heads turned. Maina dove for the
floor as the icy cone passed over her to engulf Warath completely. His
scream echoed against the stone walls.
"Rath!" Maina screamed, jumping to her feet. Wildly, her head turned
back and forth to observe both the approaching menace and the mage's
Dexler let out a roar of his own as he watched the icy cone blast his
comrade and as he felt the the shadowy claws bite into his throat.
Suddenly, the shadow's claws loosened, and Dexler dropped to the floor. As
the raven's form began deteriorating into dust, the shadow beast faded
away. Ben rushed to his aid but turned his head and gun to search for
whatever might be next.
The ice particles settled to the floor, and Warath held his flaming
blade before him in a two handed grip. With shoulder-length black hair now
frost-coated white, he grinned. Turning her head with relief, Maina
focused her anger on the demon knight and rushed forward to cleave it in
two. As she moved in, she could see red spiny teeth where the helm had
opened. Suddenly, the passageway temperature shot up. Maina threw herself
to the right as a flaming blast shot out from the knight. A lightning bolt
flew past the rising Maina. It struck the demon in the chest sending it
sprawling. Back on the icy rock, Warath's left hand crackled with
electricity. Charging, Maina brought down her flamberge upon the knight.
It cut into the armor, but it still managed to regain its feet. The
flaming sword swept out at the swordswoman. She blocked with her own
blade, but the mace caught her in the head, sending her staggering to her
left. She blocked the firesword again and then again. She cried out in
pain as the mace caught her in the stomach and then the face. Deciding
defense was worthless, she began swinging her own visciously at her foe.
Its flaming sword melted her chainmail when it struck, and the mace set in
bruises to last with every blow. Maina felt a rib snap.
Warath's battle cry caused the helmed demon to look up as the man aimed
two swords down at him, one of fire, the other of glittering blue-white
cold. The glowing magic bolt cast before his battlecry struck the spike-
armored figure in the chest, blowing it back. A metal on stone grating
sound punished the warriors' ears as it maintained its footing, and its
armored boots sliced back through the stone floor.
Depressing the trigger rapidly, Ben's bullets bounced harmlessly off
the spike armor. His disbelief shone apparent on his face.
Dexler moved through the shadows like a sidewinder in the sand. Dashing
to his left at the demon knight from the side, he raised a warhammer and
lashed out. The hammer landed squarely in the side of its helm and
impacted twice, leaving two horrendous dents. Before Warath could drive
his swords through, Dexler struck again, this time with the spike side of
the warhammer. He swung hard once, and the hammer spike landed twice,
ripping uneven rips in the platemail. Black blood oozed from the tears.
Raising the hellmace with lightning speed, the demon struck Dexler with an
uppercut, sending him reeling back. It turned in time to parry, Warath's
charge. Flaming swords met. The cold blade lanced through its spiked
plate, freezing and shattering the metal as it plunged through.
As he pulled the blade free, he couldn't counter the counterattack with
his other sword alone. The flaming sword caught him in the left shoulder,
and the mace struck him in the right ribs. He dodged to the side as the
knight's flaming weapon attempted to pierce his face. Warath's dodge
turned into a fall as the demon tripped him with a kick.
The stone blocks underneath Ben's feet flew upward in a shower of
water. The ground beneath him collapsed, and he splashed down into the
deep water. Swimming for the solid ground, he dragged himself out only to
have tentancles wrap around him and begin dragging him back in. "Help!"
As the demon knight raised its burning blade to strike a blow to
Warath's heart, Maina emerged from the darkness, and her blade arced
through the air. Maintaing her balance after the hard swing, she watched
with satisfaction as the demon's head and helm flew across the hall.
She then swung her head around to see Ben twist and begin shaking his
handgun rapidly to fling water from it. Ben then fired away behind him at
something that'd apparently wrapped its tendrils about him. Cannon booms
from his weapon blasted into the party's ears as he shot into the face of
his enemy. Large bulging eyes burst in a spray of green blood, and teeth
shattered as the rounds found their mark. Loosening its hold, the aquatic
thing slid back beneath the waves created by its movement.
Dexler helped Warath up while Ben rejoined them, soaking wet. "Let's
go," Maina said, wiping blood from her face. Wet blonde hair hung over her
face, drenched from the bleeding.
Five more levels down later, the party descended the steps to the sixth
floor below the ground. Battered and bloody they moved with a grim
determination. Warath removed a decaying zombie arm from his shoulder and
took a step forward. My last clip, Ben thought, reloading. A bright light
flashed from an open doorway ahead and to the left. The lightning bolt
streaked out and struck Warath in the chest. Sparks flew, and the mage
landed on his back. The doorway flashed again and everyone dropped to the
ground. The bolt passed overhead and exploded stone from the wall near the
steps. Speaking an incantation, Warath glowed. He then rose to be struck
by another bolt. The lightning crackled around him, but he sustained no
injury and proceeded forward.
"They're getting close," Valtanna said to Scaldetec dryly.
Ned clutched the bullethole in his forehead and moaned. It was slowly
healing, but the rate wasn't fast enough to satisfy the former man turned
The demon lord held the crystal ball on the table and illuminated it
again. Another lightning bolt streaked out from its lair to strike Dexler.
A scream passed by through the tunnel. "Kill them, Minion," Scaldetec
commanded Ned. The minion stepped from the decorated room into the dank
The group halted ten feet before the door as the huge hulking beast
stepped out before them. Ben raised his gun in a two-handed grip and began
firing. A round slammed into Ned's eye, his head, his throat, his chest,
and his head again. Ben's finger halted a milimeter before the trigger as
Maina charged up to take a slice from the monster with her flamberge's
undulating blade. It swiped back but failed to connect. With a groan, Ned
collapsed forward, and Maina barely dodged the bulk. Black blood seeped
from its head to form pools on the stone. The group stormed into the lair.
A flash of recognition passed between Warath, Maina, and the priestess.
Valtanna gasped. With a word, she dissapeared in a flash. Shocked with
disbelief, Maina and Warath turned their heads slowly to see the demon
lord. Its scorpion tail struck over its head into Maina's chest. As the
tail retracted back, she screamed and collapsed backwards, paralyzed.
Warath, flaming sword in one hand, raised the other and fired a lightning
bolt of his own with an incantation at Scaldetec.
Blasted senseless for a moment, the demonlord regained his senses in
time to comprehend a .44 slug passing through what would pass for his head.
Scuttling back on his insect legs, Scaldetec prepared to counterattack as
Dexler moved in.
Out of sheer malice, Dexler smashed the the crystal ball with the
warhammer in his left hand as he raised the blade in his right fist.
Blinding beams of light scintillated from the cracks in the crystal sphere
and then it exploded. The explosion consumed the lair and blew the walls
out into the passageway.
Conscioussness slowly returned to Ben. He tried to move, but there was
something heavy on him. Stone blocks probably, he realized, remembering an
explosion. Can't move my left arm. Broken probably, damnit.
"Ahhh," Maina moaned, sitting up. Looking up, she didn't see anyone
off hand. "Rath!" She spotted his unmoving form buried in rubble lit by the
unsheathed flaming sword and went over to him as quick as she could,
removing the rubble blocking her first.
Ben managed to get up and soon spotted a form moving in the darkness.
"Maina! Are you alright?"
"Yes, find Dexler."
Grasping his left arm, he stumbled across a blackened form. "Dexler!"
He screamed, kneeling down and trying to wake the burnt fighter. Warath
and Maina soon approached.
"Dear Gods," Warath whispered. His own appearance was ghastly. Flesh
was ripped from his face, and his clothing was ash colored. He looked to
have fared far better than Dexler. The nearly dismembered fighter appeared
to have had his left arm blown off. Kneeling down, he whispered a line of
power words and laid a hand on his compatriot. Light issued forth, and the
burns were wiped away. Glass shards were imbedded in numerous places and
skin had been blown away in large portions. Ben put his head to his chest
to listen for a heartbeat.
"Lift him up. We'll carry him to a healer. Wait a minute. Maina, get
his warhammer. Its embedded in the wall." Aiming his flaming sword, Warath
pointed to the far wall which the hammer had driven itself into.
"We'll have to return to the caravan or find someone else in town. I
don't think the town's church is the best idea."
"You carry the light, Rath," Maina told him. "I'll help Ben carry
After the party had left, the air sparkled in the darkness, and a white
form appeared. Crawling over to the rubble, it moved away blocks until Ned
was revealed. "Get up, Minion." Scaldetec demanded. His black flesh had
blown away from his front to reveal a bony carapace. "GET UP!"
Rubble shifted, and Ned rose. He staggered forward a bit, and then
stumbled backwards. One of Scal's legs searched through the broken stone
and came up with a heavy bore handgun. After clicking the trigger
uselessly, he smashed it against the rock.
Valtanna paced through her church. A tingling sensation then began in
her head. The familiar voice of the demon rose in her mind. "Remember
their faces, Valtanna. They must die. Kill them yourself. If you fail,
I'll have to do it myself."
Valtanna shuddered and knew his way would harm her in one way or
another. A knock at the door brought her out of her pondering. "Enter,"
A priest in white robes from another branch of the Church came in. A
few red spots were present. They were blood, his own. "I regret to inform
you but our group from Randarsharav was attacked and our numbers left are
few." Valtanna faked a shocked expression. The priest continued. "We'll
have to convene the inspection later."
"Oh my!" She said, feigning surprise. She then resumed a comely
appearance. "Your wound's haven't yet healed," the priestess said, moving a
hand to the gash on his forehead. "Let me heal it."
At her touch, his head jerked sharply to his right with a snapping of
bone. His screams were cut short as the head rotated around quickly with
the cracking sounds of a breaking spine. Flesh ripped and blood flew as
his skull spun completely around in circles. The priest collapsed with a
thud on the hard wood floor.
Three figures appeared behind the high priestess. "Consume him
elsewhere," she commanded. The ghouls advanced on the carrion, preparing
their sharp teeth and nails.
By Tony Figueroa
Chapter Six: A Church of Darkness
Without knocking, Warath opened the door and entered, followed by two
more carrying the limp form of their wounded. "We disposed of the butcher,"
he said to the three remaining priests. "Unfortunately our friend here took
out himself along with them. Can you help him? Perhaps give him back
this?" Warath threw Dexler's arm before them.
"We will try," one of the clerics said. "None of you look well
"Him first," Ben said, helping Maina lay him down.
"It's amazing he's not dead," the priest said. He kneeled and began
If it weren't for his warhammer, he would be, Maina thought to herself.
Nothing could survive such a blast that close without protection. He'd
nearly died acquiring that weapon, and it'd paid off.
"And that's what happened," Warath explained.
"That is not good," the elder priest said. "We should leave now to
inform the Cardinal."
"But Bandorf hasn't returned yet," piped up the younger clergyman.
"We wish to confront them here and now. She may have them all in a
spell. We're leaving this morning. Her husband was the only one I could
detect as good. If possible, we should try making contact with him first."
"Why would he believe us?" Ben asked Warath.
"I don't know."
One of the younger clerics stepped forward. "Let me go with them," he
asked the elder priest. "The palladin may be more inclined to listen if
there's a man of the cloth with them."
He grumbled for a moment and then answered, "Fine, but only if they'll
"Gladly," Warath spoke. "What is you name? I seemed to have forgotten
it during the recent turmoil."
"Ador," the young blonde cleric answered. He looked to be in his early
twenties, slightly less than most of the other party members. As the party
assembled to leave, Ador tucked his holy water sprinkler, an older term for
the studded ball and chain weapon, under the golden rope around his white
robes that concealed the leather armor he'd put on underneath.
"Adore?" Warath asked.
"No, it's pronounced Aedoor," the priest corrected.
"I seem to have depleted my weapon," Ben spoke to Warath and Maina. "I
currently seem to be weaponless and without protection."
"We'll see what we can do about that in town," Dexler answered from
behind. "For now, take my sword."
"Thanks," Ben said, accepting it in the scabbard. "Warath, how am I
going to return home? You may remember I mentioned I'm not from this
"I don't know, but it will be difficult. I think the best way towards
finding your path back is to head into town and solve our immediate problem
since you seem to be involved."
"This is your size," the armorer spoke to Ben, laying the suit of
banded-mail on the table.
"Wear these underneath, it'll be more comfortable," said the
shopkeeper. He then told the cost to Warath who handed over a jumble of
"Now let's see how it'll fit," the mage said.
Maina and Ador entered the inn and made their way over to the other
three. Dexler was showing Ben how to don armor. "The palladin's there, and
the priestess isn't," Maina told them.
"Well, that's as good as the news could be," Warath said.
"Not exactly," Ador said. "Shortly after the attack last night, we sent
Bandorf to inform Talboria's church. When I asked them where he was, they
said he'd never arrived."
"That is bad," the mage agreed. "Let's go."
Upon entering the church, they were greeted by a cleric in robes at the
"We would like an audience with Falsayer," Ador told him. "Is he still
"Yes, I am," spoke a voice approaching the front entrance. A young man
dressed in clothes worthy of a noble came into view. His blonde hair was
combed very stylishly. "I was just on my way out to lunch. If you must
speak with me, why not join me. The Roasting Turkey really does have great
"We'd be honored," Maina said smugly and smiled. Warath looked over at
As they ate, Warath told Falsayer, "I wish to speak to you of evil
happenings that have befallen the Church of Light. As a palladin, I
thought you would be interested."
"Yes, you may confide in me."
"You know this is really quite good," Maina said to the mage, driving
another piece of meat into her mouth with the fork. He looked over at the
swordswoman seated to his left, but she simply smiled back.
Warath turned his gaze back to the palladin across from him. He still
sensed good in the man, but he also sensed an infection of evil. It was
unnatural as if it were forced in rather than the result of a natural
change. Luckily, it seemed to be being consumed by the good. "Anyway, we
were sent to escort the priests from Randarsharav to your church here. Our
group was attacked by a beast that killed most of us and nearly all the
priests. We'd sent one of our own to tell you of this earlier, but your
priests have told us that he never arrived. He never returned either."
Falsayer listened silently, his attention fixed intently on the mage's
words. "We found an old stone staircase leading into the ground surrounded
by collapsed slabs enscribed with runes. After having ventured down and
battled numerous demons, we killed what we think to have been responsible.
Having spent much time with religous folk over the past month greatly
enhanced our demonology which allowed to us to fight them. However, one of
those below teleported just as we arrived and caught a glimpse of her. She
wore dark violet robes embroidered with silver and had long silky black
hair." Concentrating, Warath attempted to lace into the palladin's thoughts
a suggestion that perhaps he should check his wife's wardrobe. "We..."
"That's quite enough," Falsayer snarled. Shocked by his angered tone,
he rose from his seat and quickly added, "I really must be going. I have
important matters to attend to." Falsayer stormed from the restaurant, his
face twitching in anger.
"Thanks for the meal," Maina called out after him.
Warath turned to her, "Please..."
"I'm just trying to be friendly."
"I know," he said, turning to look down at the table. "I have a feeling
this didn't go as planned." Dexler, Ben, and Ador agreed.
Below the church, the witch cloaked in violet was slowly approached by
a man. Dressed in tattered rags, this man looked to have been dead for a
long time. Dim light glowed in its sockets surrounded by tattered flesh.
"Mistress Valtanna, the priests of Randarsharav have left." The corpse's
voice rasped up through its decayed throat and outs its mouth. The long
since bloodless tounge formed the sound into words as best it could. "I
also bring you a message. The Dark Shadow has accepted your offer. He
says your will shall be done tonight."
"He should have phrased it 'my wish.' If he doesn't succeed, he'll need
a will." She began chanting and dark strands of mist that only she could
see stretched out from her fingertips and passed through the walls of the
secret domain beneath the church. The willpower of the town flowed into
her, and she absorbed it in ectasy. This town is mine, she thought and
focused her attention to her husband, Falsayer. Her soul rending mist
encircled his body returning to the church and attacked him mercilessly,
trying to drag out all that was good. Her attempt lacked great result.
Her thoughts grew angry. "If I cannot turn you, I must destroy you!" She
seethed from her anger contorted lips.
"May I recommend the roast quail, sir?" The waiter asked Warath seated
with Maina, Ben, and Ador.
"That would be fine," he said back. The waiter turned and left.
"It doesn't seem like he'll be coming does it?" Maina asked the group
around her. They'd chosen to dine at the same establishment for dinner in
hopes that they would see the palladin again.
"We may have insulted his honor too much for him to return," Ador
offered. "You did make a somewhat blunt allusion to his wife."
"Or maybe he just doesn't eat dinner at the same place as lunch," Ben
"Hopefully Dexler will learn more," the mage said, sipping from his mug
Dexler was looking in through the temple window from the shadows. He
shifted ever so slightly in the darkness to get a better view of the second
story window, and the tree he was in didn't even move enough for the birds
in it to notice. The bedroom was furnished lavishly for the fact that it
was for the heads of the church hierarchy. They had risen unclad to an
upright position on the bed and held each other. A sparrow landed next to
where Dexler held a branch. Startled, he lost his grip. Placing a leg
backwards into the darkness, he clutched a lower limb and held on tight.
No movement could possibly have been visible in the shadows in which he was
cloaked, but even so, the priestess lifted her head from her husband's
shoulder and glared, seemingly at him. As she ran her fingernails through
the palladin's blonde hair, his cranium suddenly jerked to his right.
Falsayer caught the gaze from Valtanna's eyes and saw a pit of hell.
"Stars!" he gasped, choking.
Dexler raised his right hand back, and hurled his dagger forward. The
blade shattered through the window and found his mark. Valtanna screamed
as she drew her right hand back to her. The dagger had buried itself to
the hilt in the back of her hand. Gripping his head in both hands,
Falsayer screamed as his head became stationary after suddenly jerking to
the side five more degrees. Looking up, he saw in horror the knife
impaling his wife.
A large black bird landed in Dexler's face, causing him to lose his
handhold. Falsayer turned to see the broken window and a rustling in the
tree. A sudden thud sounded in the palladin's ears as the dagger-thrower
impacted thirty feet below. As the adventurer looked up from the ground
he'd hit, he heard a growling. Pain was the least of his worries now, he
decided. A large black wolf bared its teeth in his direction. Dexler
sprung to his feet and moaned in agony from the pain as he drew his
warhammer. The wolf pounced.
A flash of yellow flared in the corner of the bedroom. Falsayer's
glowing golden blade flew into his outstrectched right hand, and his
fingers curled around the hilt.
"Please... help me," Valtanna cried.
The waiter served the four people their meal and left. The day had
left them hungry, and they ate the roasted fowl readily. "I hope something
happens soon, 'cause I can't stand simply sitting around and waiting,"
Maina suddenly felt short of breath. Her eyes opened in wide in
realization. Her hand flapped at and clung to Warath's right shoulder.
"We've been poisoned. Quick! Dexler's antidote!"
"What?" Ben asked and then doubled over, moaning. His eyes began to
bulge and glaze over.
Warath drew a vial from his robes and downed it down Ben's throat. He
then took some himself and handed the vial to Maina. Maina quickly passed
it over to Ador, who was clutching his stomach with a sickened expression.
"Where's that waiter?!" Warath demanded, rising to his feet.
Once outside and into the darkness in the bushes, the Dark Shadow threw
off the peasant wrappings, revealing his night color cloak. The assassin
watched his prey dine to what he believed to be their death. "Damnit!" He
cursed as he saw them counteract the venom. Warath dashed outside, flaming
blade drawn. Dark Shadow drew his own blade, and hurled the hand axe at
the head of the mage.
Warath heard the whistling of wind and turned in time to dodge the axe
flying at him. He nearly collapsed to one side as the axeblade buried
itself in left shoulder. He felt the blood race down his chest. Through
the hazy vision he retained, Warath saw Maina, Ben, and Ador rush to his
side. He also heard the whooshing of more weapons coming.
The Dark Shadow drew and hurled his axes with precision at each target.
They struck with deadly accuracy, however, the target's movement and
dexterity prevented the blows from landing in their head. An axe caught
Maina right near the neck in the right shoulder. Another drove into Ben's
chest, and the final whirling razor landed in Ador's side. The three
collapsed. Dark Shadow ran from the bushes in complete silence towards his
first target who still stood. The venom from his blades had taken obvious
effect on the others but not on this one.
Warath wobbily raised his flameblade before him and prepared to summon
a tremendous boost of innerstrength. A sharp pain in his gut cut that
short. He focused in on a dark figure before him, leaning forward as if
having thrown something. Warath noticed the knife in his chest. He then
Dark Shadow approached. The black cloack swirled around his tall burly
figure. Deep black pupils surveyed his kills. This one merits searching,
but not here, he thought lifting who was obviously the party's spell caster
and sheathing the fire sword in its magic scabbard. The assassin retreated
into the night.
Maina's fingers twitched.
Dexler tumbled on the ground with the wolf on him. The sharp fangs
sank into his flesh and ripped it free. His armor protected the most vital
areas though, or so he hoped. Smacking his hammer onto the beast's
foreheaded, the weapon slammed down twice although only swung once. The
creature's anger increased as did Dexler's determination.
Falsayer tossed his sword aside and gently removed the dagger from his
wife's hand, who quickly uttered a spell to mend the wound. He then raced
to the window and retrieved his blade. He sensed something below and
peered down through the glass. "A dog from hell is down there," he said,
the anger tightly controlled.
"Yes," Valtanna said, approaching Falsayer from behind. A force rushed
into the palladin warning him of evil of the worst kind, he whirled and his
blade was caught between Valtanna's fingers which had been inching their
way towards his bare back.
"What are you doing?!" She cried, yanking her hand back to her. Blood
trickled from where the blade had gone between her fingers. "Are you mad?!"
The length of her bare body trembled with fury. She turned and lowered her
head dejectedly, moving for her robes.
"I must go down and fend off that monster," Falsayer said, donning his
clothes and armor. He approached his now clad wife and said, "I'm sorry.
I'll fetch some guards."
"That's alright," she replied tenderly, still looking down. Her hand
travelled up to chin, and she raised her head to gaze into his eyes. The
eyes suddenly narrowed to dark pinpoints. Falsayer saw the pits of hell
returned. His head jerked to suddenly to the right, and he pulled back
with all his strength as the sound of popping bones began.
Valtanna looked at him and cackled. "I'm still amazed that throughout
all these years we've been married, you never recognized me for what I
was," she said with a wistful tone, wondering about the stupidity of good.
"My sword would have let me know," he said, choking because of his
twisting neck. "But I would never had drawn it on you, I loved you."
"Love is dangerous, my dear," she said with an air of superiority.
"People should know when to abandon it. I do. I have higher priorities!"
Falsayer took a step forward, and his head involuntarily jerked another
twenty-five degrees to the right. His sword glowed the intense shade of
his golden platemail. He lashed out with the blade, catching Valtanna in
the ribs. Blood flew from the wound, and the priestess staggered back.
The palladin managed to twist his head back into its normal position, and
his sword's glowing lowered in brightness somewhat. The priestess fled
into the corridor. No, the palladin mourned in thought, No. Tears welled
up in his eyes, and his muscles tensed. "This is not a Church of Light,"
Falsayer said, sobbing. A hidden telepathic message from Warath was
beginning to surface now that the proper trauma had now been undergone.
"IT'S A CHURCH OF DARKNESS!"
As the wolf's jaws moved to clamp about Dexler's neck, he swung the
warhammer hard, catching the monster in the side of the head. The two
impacts landed hard, cracking bone and sending the wolf slipping off its
prey. The beast lay still on the ground. Dexler rose, holding his throat
protectively. He then knelt and slammed the wolf's skull another double-
blow. "Just to be sure," he muttered to it.
Light flickered in Ador's mind. Conscioussness had returned. Not
wishing to waste a moment with possibly limited duration, the priest lifted
himself with his arms and turned himself on his back. Removing the axe
from his midsection, he uttered a prayer and healed his wound. Another
neutralized the poison. He moved to the swordswoman with haste and
repeated his act. Moving quickly, he ran to Ben's side, gently eased out
the blade, and urged him to awaken. His eyes searched for the mage, but he
saw no trace of him.
"It's gonna take more than your venom to take me out," Maina groaned,
wobbling to her feet. "We're coming for you."
"To the church," Ador directed, helping the cop to sit up. "We should
Below the dark catacombs beneath the church, Valtanna's arms were
outstreched and her raving filled the room. The priestess of evil hadn't
taken the time to reverse her white robes which were stained red with her
own blood. The wound on her belly, however, had sealed. Soul strands only
visible to her eyes trailed from her fingernails and travelled all about
the town, encircling every citizen and every visitor. She gave a yank with
the might of her magic on the strands and the already weakened citizens'
resistance shattered. The strands lit with power. Their minds were now
Descending the staircase to ground level, Falsayer suddenly shuddered
in in his platemail, suddenly weakened for reasons unknown to him. The
strands pulled hard on his spirit and although it buckled, it would not
break. Ador doubled over, and Maina gritted her teeth. Trying to retain
an unwavering tone, Ben assisted Maina in helping the cleric continue.
As the palladin approached the inner sanctum, a priest of light moved
to block his way. He held in his hands a mace meant for sacrificial
purposes. Raising his fingertips, a chant sprung from his lips.
Falsayer's sword glowed brightly, and the palladin understood the message
it was sending him with its throbbing. This man's soul is beyond our
redemption. Bursts of energy appeared along the priest's fingertips, and
Falsayer's sword appeared through his heart. May your spirit find peace,
the palladin hoped and continued his search for the woman who had broken
his heart and nearly his neck.
"Halt!" A priest yelled, intercepting him as he moved to the stairs to
a lower level. Falsayer's blade hummed with increasing rythm as he
approached the stairwell. "Die!" The priest called out. With a three word
chant a blade of wavering darkness appeared in his hands. Falsayer
charged, raising his own sword high. The priest called for another
invocation, and a rush of force passed through the palladin harmlessly as
he resisted the magic. The sword of light came down, and the sword of
darkness blocked it. "Join us. Your will is wasted on such a pitiful
cause," the priest said with a maliscious slur.
"Never!" Falsayer screamed, slicing through the man of cloth who
realized his flesh and blood was of equal importance as he nearly slid in
half. The palladin charged down the stairs.
Below, two pulses of energy travelled along the strands into her
fingertips and into her blackened soul. Valtanna licked her lips as her
power increased. Footsteps entered her ears from the stairs, and her mouth
brought forth a force to slam the door shut. The lock's bolt slid solidly
Outside, Maina, Ben, and Ador rushed to meet Dexler who stood brushing
himself off. Blood caked the lines in his face. "How badly are you hurt?"
"I'll live. That wolf tore me up after I fell. The fall was bad
enough," he said. The priest moved his fingertips to Dexler's leather
shirt anyway and whispered a prayer that mended his rended skin. "Thanks,"
"The priestess tried to kill Falsayer. I stopped her by throwing a
dagger through her hand though I think the palladin may now blame me for
the attempt on his life."
"You're out of sync," a priest from the church growled, appearing on
the steps. Valtanna's subconsciouss invaded the townspeople's minds as
well as the minds of the clergy. Her personality formed the spoken words,
and her knowledge made the speaker more dangerous. The entire countryside
formed a nexus of power that pulsed with pure evil. A few pinpoints of
good were all that remained. The party turned to face him as bolts of
energy flew from his palm to slam each of them. Sparks flew, and Ben was
thrown to the ground. The rest remained standing, but a new chant began.
Dexler hurled a dagger in retaliation that sliced the enemy's juggular. A
scream was followed by a thud, and ball of swirling light flew from the
falling form to detonate behind them in a brilliant explosion.
"That was close," Maina said. "Let's get inside where maybe they won't
be throwin' that stuff around. They wouldn't after all want to desecrate
"This is a church of light, the fiends wouldn't have anything else in
mind," Ador reminded her.
"Then we'll just have to be faster," she said through gritted teeth,
charging up the steps into the house of gods.
The door to her chamber fell forward with a crash, hacked through by
Falsayer's holy sword. Valtanna turned to face him, eyes closed and arms
outstreched. She was still savoring the power. "So, you've come," she said
calmly, opening the lids of her eyes. "A pity I must lose such a passionate
lover and warrior."
"Tell it to the gods, not to me!" Falsayer screamed, charging with
sword ready to strike. With a word, Valtanna brought into existance a
black disc that moved to parry the palladin's blade in midair. He swung
again, and the disc halted the hack. Another word drifted from her lips,
and the sound of an explosion wracked the room as a dent slammed into the
palladin's chestplate, sending him flying back to crash into the stone wall
to the door's right.
Falsayer staggered to his feet. Four soft syllables drove nearly a
hundred iron spikes into his armor from every side. He screamed and
stumbled but remained on his feet. His growling prevented him from hearing
anything until it felt like he'd been slammed by a boulder. His armor
crashed against the wall, driving in the spikes on both his front and back.
Falsayer cried out in agony. Dust from the shattered stone billowed in the
"It's a pity," Valtanna muttered to herself. Then her eyes widened as
she saw the palladin charge again. Why don't you die? She thought.
Valtanna invoked a spell of incapacitation.
Falsayer's battlecry was all Valtanna heard after the last word of her
spell had been said. He resisted? She thought angrily. With clenched
teeth and bloodstained armor, Falsayer swung again. He didn't stop with
two failed attempts at breaching the defense disc. Valtanna began another
spell, this one to hopefully crush him finally. Before she finished, on
the fifth strike, Falsayer broke though. The glowing blade drove into her
left side, stopping halfway in. Drawing it back, he heard her cry out in
agony this time. He was horrified by the sound and wanted nothing but to
run. Valtanna began a prayer to close her wound. Falsayer thrusted the
holy sword forward, and the disc nipped the edge as it failed to block.
Valtanna felt her bones grind and a lance of pain. She looked in disbelief
as she slid off the blade. Blood from her heart darkened the glowing
palladin's swordedge. As she collapsed, the black disc blinked out.
When he reached the top of the stairs, tears were streaming down his
face and blood flowed from his wounds that were now clotting around the
iron tips. In his pain, he saw four of his guests from lunch in the room
above but didn't recognize them.
"Dear gods," Ador said. Dexler hurried downstairs to check what had
happened while Ador rushed to the wounded palladin.
Falsayer didn't resist the blur advancing on him. He had no strength
left to fight. Suddenly, his vision became clear, and his body was
restored. However, the iron nails continued to stab into him. Now, he
recognized his lunch guests. "Take me to this place where you saw the
demons gather," Falsayer demanded.
"Follow us," Dexler said, coming back up the stairs. The horrid image
of the dead high priestess with light twinkling at the end of her
fingertips was still playing in his mind.
"What about the prieste...," Maina asked and was interrupted.
Dexler turned to her and quietly said, "That is no longer a problem."
"But Rath is gone," Maina nearly yelled at him.
"The only guess we have is that he may be down there," Ador said.
"Lead," Maina told the dagger-flinger.
Warath felt horrible. He awoke tied to a wooden chair. His vision
took awhile to focus but when it did he saw he was in a small log cabin.
The time was night, and the Shadow was with him. The tall black-cloaked
male approached him. "So now little mage, without your spells you're pretty
much at my mercy aren't you?" Warath opened his mouth to speak and then
realized the meaning of his words. He was gagged in addition to being tied
tightly. "I am dissapointed in you. Only two magic items?" He held up the
flaming and freezing swords. "Tsk, tsk. Can't you do better than that?
Well, if you give me more, I just might let you go. Naa... Here's you're
final dosage." The assassin lifted a long needle after dipping it in a
vial of some unknown fluid. Dark Shadow laid his left hand on Warath's
right knee and moved the needle to plunge into the bare skin of his exposed
right arm. "I'll see you in Hades," he said, allowing himself a chuckle.
Warath concentrated with all his might. If unsuccessful, this would be
his final act. He felt the life drain from his body and then expand in
another shell. The Dark Shadow's needle jerked toward's Warath's arm, but
Warath managed to take control of it just before it struck. Triumphant and
a little stunned from the sequence of events, mainly his near death, he
rose and looked down at his body in the chair, unconsciouss. "Never
underestimate the powers of the mind, assassin," he said to the Dark Shadow
now residing in his restrained body. This body definitely is strong, he
thought. Moving carefully, he replaced the needle in the vial and untied
himself. He then lifted the needle and plunged it into his very temporary
shell and let the two bodies in the room become occupied by their original
The Dark Shadow lay on the floor gasping with a poisoned needle in his
arm. His eyes went blank. Warath rose from the chair and retrieved his
blades. Unsheathing the frostblade, he stepped to the inert murderer and
stabbed him in the heart. "You're a cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch," Warath
said. "Have a nice Hades vacation. Won't be seeing ya." Warath moved
swiftly from the cabin into the woods. The accomplished wanderer soon
found the direction which would take him to town. He ran, hoping against
odds that his friends still lived.
Scaldetec heard the deathcry of his priestess in his mind and was not
pleased. He scanned her mind at the moment of her death and decided to
check upon this assassin that she had acquired. Casting a spell, he weaved
into existance a viewing portal that focused in on his target. The party
still lived! They were preparing to leave town, and that damned paladin
was with them as well, he noted. Thinking back, Scaldetec realized that
one of their members was missing. Concentrating deeply, he scanned to the
wizard's location. He lived too! Anger boiled in the demon's hot blood.
The viewing portal's time had almost expired, and so, he used it one last
time. It entered the cabin and found the assassin dead on the floor,
stabbed through the heart.
The portal vanished. Rising up on his hindlegs, Scaldetec raised his
first four limbs and closed his eyes. Power words fled from his maw, and
his arms began to glow with energy as he cast a spell to destroy his
enemies before they escaped. Ned, the minion, stood by, watching intently
and waiting for commands.
Dexler led Maina, Ben, Ador, and Falsayer out of town and into the
forest where within lay the entrance to the depths of the pit where they
believed they'd destroyed their enemy. Falsayer picked a bloody nail from
his armor and winced in pain. A rumbling sound then began to resound
behind them. They looked back to see dust rising from the town and
buildings beginning to tilt. They stopped in their tracks as the looked on
in horror. Talboria was sinking.
Townspeople were awoken from their sleep as cracks ripped open and
raced throughout the area. Buildings collapsed, houses were swallowed into
the ground, and the world seemed to tremble. The tremors shattered the
glass windows into shards that those running from their houses for their
lives stepped on. They ran, but few ran fast enough. Walls fell, crushing
those in their paths, and crevices snapped open to swallow unfortunates.
In under five minutes, the town was reduced to rubble. A cloud of dust
began settling over the debris.
"Everything?" Ador asked, gasping in terror.
"It's all gone," Ben said softly, amazed and horrified at the same
time. All those lives that must have been lost brought his thoughts back
to his men who had died.
Falsayer suffered in silence.
"No, look!" Maina said, pointing to the towns center. A structure
became visible through the settling dust. It was the church! It appeared
to be glazed over in brightness and basking in the light. Falsayer's blade
gave off a pulse of light, and then the church returned to normal.
"We must go... Now!" Falsayer said, turning back to their course to the
tomb. Angry confusion burned within him, and he wanted it resolved.
Answers were what he sought! Nothing was making sense, and it was driving
him to madness.
Within the church, the tremors were felt, but did no damage.
Falsayer's faith had brought mercy upon it, and so, it was protected from
the evil. As hundreds died, their flesh and blood shells gave up their
life essences to the invisible strands of the witch that remained wrapped
about their souls. Along these strands, pulses travelled back to the
source, the high priestess. Beneath the temple, light flashed brightly
just before the slain witch's fingertips. Her body glowed, and the life
forces pumping into her took effect. Valtanna's flesh began to mend as the
cells came alive stronger, and the life energy empowered the regenerative
healing processes. The glowing fingers twitched, and the eyelids closed
tighter to block out the light. Valtanna moaned.
Falsayer removed another nail and winced. He almost had them all out,
and they were at their destination. Somehow he knew they would end up
here. Before him lay the lair of the troll lord who had once terrorized
Talboria. After that, his wife had sealed it off and declared it an evil
place where no one was to go.
"Here we are," Dexler said, unenthusiastically. "Although I don't know
why. We defeated the inhabitants."
"No," Falsayer said. "If they had been, I wouldn't have been drawn
here. If you truly wish to end the evil, follow me." The palladin ripped
the last nail from his armor and drew his glowing longsword. His armor
grated against the stone as he descended the ancient steps.
"Be careful here," Ben suggested. "There should be a pit of water in
front of us somewhere. I fell in once and don't recommend it."
Footsteps echoed off the high ceiling in the silent corridor as the
water pit was avoided without difficulty thanks to the palladin's shining
blade. "I see that demons have been here," Falsayer said, stepping over the
pile of dust that had once been a denizen of darkness.
The smell of decay wafted across the party as a giant emerged from the
shadows ahead. The twelve-foot humanoid was marred from years of decay.
Bone showed through the flesh that remained and the face was a hideous
diplay from which six-inch long fangs protruded from the mouth. The dead
troll opened its maw and spoke, "This was my fortress, and now it's my
tomb. It will soon be yours, palladin!" Lifting the gigantic spiked metal
mace, the troll advanced faster than a mere zombie.
Falsayer was shocked to see his nemesis reanimated, but he quickly
recovered. "I'm sending you back to your proper place, Iditele, and this
time it'll be permanent." The spiked troll mace swung at the palladin who
ducked and slashed the undead troll across the knee in return. Iditele
gave no indication of pain. A shadow flashed across the warring figures.
Dodging another swipe from the spiked mace, Falsayer failed to avoid
Iditele's left skeletal hand which wrapped around him, trapping his left
arm. With his right, Falsayer hacked at the fingers even as he felt
himself moving upwards. With a crack, Falsayer's helmed head slammed into
the ceiling. Iditele lowered his hand to smash the palladin into the
ceiling again when a double-impact hit his left kneecap with the crunching
sound of bone. Iditele turned to face the attacker with his mace when
Dexler hit the kneecap again, impacting twice with the warhammer on a
single stroke. The troll faltered but still raised its weapon. Maina took
this oppurtunity to slice her two-handed sword up into the armpit of its
weapon arm. The mace arm swung without aim as Maina prepared to attack
again. Having moved behind the reanimated troll, Ben thrust Dexler's sword
into the back of Iditele's right knee.
Realizing his strategic position, Falsayer swung his sword again but
not at the hand which held him. The blade caught the troll under the chin,
sinking into the throat. With his head nearly severed, Iditele tossed the
palladin to the floor to his left, turned, and advanced on him, ignoring
the others. With a battlecry, Iditele swung his spiked mace down at the
palladin and collapsed as Maina, Ben, and Dexler severed its legs at the
knees. With a mighty blow, Falsayer decapitated the falling troll. The
mace and body hit the stone floor like thunder.
"You knew him?" Maina asked.
"I've slain him before," Falsayer answered. "A decade ago, Iditele ran
a raiding party from this compound. Upon defeating him with the help of my
men, I was knighted and married to the high-priestess." Falsayer completely
refused to think of her, however, he was only partially successful, and
anger began building in his voice. "This place became his tomb. I doubt
you defeated the evil here. Else, who could have brought Iditele's rotting
carcass back into the land of the living!"
"I did," an inhuman voice echoed through the stone passages. "Your wife
was my slave, and I'll sending you to meet her soon. That'll give you time
to work out your differences!"
Then there was silence. A scraping sound quickly began. It soon took
on the sound of shuffling feet. The forms breaking the darkness into the
light were many. They were also without souls and without life. A red
glow burned in their eye sockets and within their bodies, letting beams of
fiery hue illuminate the darkness through the many wounds and decayed
orafices in their flesh which their tattered rags hardly covered.
"More zombies?" Maina asked in disbelief and an annoyed tone.
"No," Ador said, stepping to the front. "Far worse." He began a prayer,
twirling in a verticle circle before him his mourning star which left
behind streaks of brilliance. The undead moaned and growled, advancing no
longer with a shiftless shuffle but with the angry efficiency of a marching
The palladin held out his sword pointed downward and uttered a simple
prayer. An intense glow took up residence in the cleric's and palladin's
weapons, causing the undead to moan out in pain. They stumbled, collapsed,
and burst into fire, wailing out in suffering of something which should
hold no meaning for the dead. Nevertheless, the pain they felt was real.
Soon, nothing remained of them but ashes. "Quickly," Ador said, rushing
forward. "Before they have time to react..."
The group acknowledged the wisdom of his words and charged forward,
waiting around no longer for more trouble to come their way. They would
find it before it found them and destroy it.
Scaldetec, filled with rage, watched the party in his scrying portal.
The black chitin had begun regrowing over the white bony carapace that
remained of his face. This gave him the hideous appearance of being half-
formed. His companion could hardly care. "Minion, SEEK, KILL, AND DEVOUR!"
the demon lord screamed. Ned's monstrous form turned slowly and took a
step towards the exit of the chamber. After standing there for what seemed
like an eternity to the demon lord, the minion immediately broke into a
run. Scaldetec followed.
They'd made it to the fourth level when they heard the approaching
enemy. With a body twice the size of a man, Ned moved like the wind, and
his claw struck down at the armored figure. He blocked! It's that damned
glowing sword! Let's see how you do without it!
Falsayer parried another blow that'd sent out enough force to make his
knees shudder. The second claw came from the side low, striking near the
hilt. The grip wasn't strong enough, and the blade flew from his hands to
impact against the far wall and clatter to the ground. The minion's kick
caught him nearly in the chin and sent him flying back. Falsayer lay
stunned. The blow nearly killed him, and if it had hit him in the chin,
the force would've ripped his skull from his spinal column.
Maina came at Ned from his right, chopping into his left knee as Dexler
battered it with his warhammer. Ned's sweeping claw smacked Maina from his
path into the floor, but Dexler evaded the blow as Ben stabbed at the
minion with his borrowed short sword.
Ned raised his great razor claw to slice away Dexler and his warhammer,
and Ador's raised hand issued a bright flash from a spell. The minion's
claw jerked aimlessly just as it neared the rogue and an unseen force
flashed for a moment as it punched into Ned's head. Dexler's warhammer
ripped apart the minion's left knee joint, and Ned fell backward from the
imbalance of a wounded leg and a magical blast.
Ador screamed, convulsed, and crumpled to the ground. Dexler and Ben
peered into the darkness to see an obscure form in the light cast by
Falsayer's sword which lay on the ground as the palladin dragged himself to
it. Red beams shot from the darkness into the party, and Ben's vision
twisted into hideous images. Seeing a large rising form covered in green
scales and horns, he stabbed it mercilessly with the short sword.
Maina screamed as Ben backstabbed her. The swordswoman fell to the
ground, supporting herself with her arms and letting her sword drop. Ben
raised the blade again, but Dexler had caught onto what was happening. An
intense glow issued from his right cuff from a sigil embedded in his wrist
as did one carved into the hilt of Ben's sword. The short sword instantly
reappeared in the rogue's hand, leaving the former cop weaponless. Maina
retaliated, raising her two-handed flamberge weakly. Dexler cocked his
head towards the enemy too late. A silvery fist-size mass of twisting
blades slammed into his side, cutting deep. He fell, hands prying at the
missile. Ador raised his twirling mourning star above Maina as she
prepared a lethal blow for Ben.
Somewhere behind them, an incantation was completed. True sight
returned to the party, and Maina stayed her hand as Ador collapsed in
agony, his weapon skittering across the stone floor. Falsayer exploded
into fire as his hand found his blade, and a gigantic mass of darkness rose
from the floor with a limp. Having removed the sphere, Dexler charged
Scaldetec with both weapons and then cried out. Although stumbling, he
continued charging as the poisonous black magic entered his system.
Finally, he collapsed at the feet of the demon lord.
A fiery bolt flew from one of Scal's insect-like limbs to strike
Warath. Although his dispelling of the the demon's magic hadn't won him
any favors, the searing flames did him no harm. Warath was sent back
anyway from the impact, hurling him to the roughly hewn floor. Ben grasped
Ador's chained weapon and ran after Scaldetec, followed by the bleeding
Maina. Shards of darkness hit Ben with penetrating force. Utterly
stunned, he fell over helplessly as Maina continued. Suddenly, Scal wasn't
there, and he struck her from behind with his stiletto limbs in the back.
Maina screamed as he fell upon her.
Warath regained his feet and cast a magic bolt at Scal who resisted it
and sent out to the psionic mage the same vile spell that'd been dealt the
priest. Warath gritted his teeth and continued to advance. The air
whistled loudly as a blade ball skimmed the floor, lodging in Warath's leg.
The wizard cursed and tripped over his own mangled limb.
A burning and charring mass, Falsayer managed to sense the minion
looming over him, ready to strike. Suddenly a vision was granted him. "Is
it worth the rest of your life?" A voice spoke in his head more with
feeling than with words. "If you truly believe what you live by, accept.
The cost of redemption is high." The palladin understood that the
redemption was for ignoring every instinct and letting the evil go
undetected and unpunished. I can never defeat him now, he thought of the
beast whose claws even now approached. I'm dead.
Falsayer accepted the offer with a mental cry, giving everything over
to his faith. Years of life not yet lived rushed into him and the flames
died away. He rose, restored in full. The holy sword glowed with a
brilliance that would never be repeated as it blocked Ned's black claw
soaked with blood. The minion staggered back, and Falsayer ran him through
with his full strength. Twisting the blade, the palladin wrenched it out
and sliced downward at the minion's lowered head, cleaving it into two
halves. Ned fell.
Scaldetec raised his leg to impale Maina again when he sensed the
palladin. He turned to face the glow the instant Falsayer's blade cut deep
into his abdomen. Four spearing limbs rushed at him, but his sword blocked
them all. With a speed like lightning, Falsayer's sword ran the demon lord
straight through the chest area and ripped the blade free. A second hack
was averted by the demon's many limbs, and Scal launched his death spell at
the palladin who shrugged it off. The holy sword left behind a trail of
light as it cut through the parrying demon limbs and cleanly shaved off the
head of Scaldetec. Falsayer raised the blade over his head as the demon
lord died, and then the palladin struck the ground upon which the demon
lay. The body shattered into dust.
A faint glow illuminated the bodies of the rest of the party. Their
bodies grew stronger, feeding off the palladin's leaking life.
Later that night, the party sat around the campfire. "We should head
for Randarsharav now," Warath spoke softly. "They must know of this."
The party agreed without resistance. They were weak and huddled
together, covered in blankets to keep out the cold that gnawed at their
damage. A faint glow surrounded the palladin who had led them from their
almost certain demise. Falsayer caught the cleric staring at him.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," Ador said.
"I can tell it's something," Falsayer said with certainty. The rest of
the party looked up with interest.
"It's that glow around you. I'm not certain, but I fear what I think
"I don't think you have more than a few months left. Your life is
The party sat in stunned silence. Falsayer wasn't surprised, but
accepted the cleric's grim diagnosis as fact. Shortly the night grew
darker, and sleep claimed them. A guard was rotated every few hours for
they stilled feared even after slaying the demon responsible for the
sequence of events which had brought them together.
They were correct in continuing to fear. Evil continued to grow
elsewhere. In the northwest it was taking root quickly and growing like a
weed. However, much closer was a woman whose dark plans concerned them.
Although travelling away from them, she thought unholy thoughts within her
bloodied white robes, thoughts which were far from safe for them. The
priestess rode northwest.
By Tony Figueroa
Chapter 7: Death to the Monarch
Mikalea Tochi walked across his cliff-mounted earthen palace. Humming
a power word, a force lifted up the earthenware over to his table. The
geomancer consumed his dinner without pleasure. Over twenty years ago,
he'd accepted a dark pact with powerful forces. His strength increased a
hundredfold. Now, he was just as powerful, but something was missing. The
confidence was gone. Any feeling that there might have been something out
there backing him had dissappeared. The geomancer wondered how long he
could last without the power of the nexus to sustain him. Still, he ruled
the neighboring countryside. His domain consisted of small towns, yes, but
anything larger would have ended up with the King being contacted by
somebody. It was better to have a smaller realm which could easily be kept
an eye on.
Mikalea was satisfied with his miniature kingdom of which he was
tyrant. The meal he was finishing was prepared for him by his favorite
servant girl. She was, in fact, his only servant. His geomancy could
handle all the rest of the cleaning, washing, and other care that his stone
palace required. The physical forces of his geomancy had formed the palace
itself as well. He scoffed at the other elemental based magics. Sure,
pyromancy could burn a nice hole in an enemy, but could it clean the house
A knock at the door disrupted him as he ate the last piece of dinner.
Rising, the brown-robed geomancer was definitely even more than the
standard geomancer stereotype was meant to look like. His brown hair still
had color which was admirable at his age, and his brown eyes were cold and
calculating. Suddenly though, they were filled with fear and uncertainty.
His hand was around the doorhandle, but he wasn't sure he wanted to meet
the power that lay on the other side. Mikalea decided to face it.
On the other side of the door was the power nexus that'd been there for
him for twenty years and then dissappeared so recently. He looked it in
the face, and she gazed back. Having absorbed the life force of an entire
town, Valtanna was filled with power, but Mikalea realized he could only
sense it because she allowed it. He stared at her, utterly speechless.
The woman was draped in fine black black attire with silver embroidery and
had long silky black hair and beautiful penetrating dark eyes. He also
realized that she could strike him dead on the spot if she so wished. Her
ruby lips slowly curved into a smile the instant before she spoke.
"I have need of your services, Mikalea," Valtanna simply said. "This
pitifully small hovel of yours isn't fit for us." She paused and entered
his palace of plain stone. "We're going to the royal palace," she
continued. Shock hit Mikalea like a hammer, but he couldn't manage to move
his lips to form the words. Valtanna spoke again, standing in the center
of the room, "I represent those who granted you your power, and I am the
power they granted you." She looked at him standing there, paralyzed.
"Speak your mind," she said impatiently.
"It is an honor," he managed, lowering himself to one knee. The former
high priestess smiled.
At that moment, his servant girl entered to collect the dishes. She
froze upon seeing her master before the witch. Valtanna's head turned to
glare at her. Fear rushed through the servant whose knees began to wobble.
Valtanna spoke a word, and the servant girl burst into flames and screamed
with all the air left in the scorching young lungs. She banged against the
walls but quickly succumbed to the killing blaze and sank to the floor.
Mikalea watched in horrified fascination as his cook and pleaser of his
carnal desires burned in his home.
In less than a week's ride, Warath, Maina, Falsayer, Dexler, Ben, and
Ador reached the prospering walled city of Randarsharav. The Church was
rightfully shocked upon hearing the fate that befell Talboria. As Ador
spoke the story, Falsayer sat far back in an attempt get out of earshot.
He failed and suffered in silence. Ador had not mentioned that it was
palladin, Falsayer, who had killed Valtanna, his own high priestess and
wife, but simply that she was killed in the ensuing battle against her and
her dark forces of priests turned to evil.
Warath, Maina, and Dexler had been hired by the Church to protect their
caravan and had only partially succeded. They were present in order to
recieve their payment and back up their two friends. Ben tagged along for
he had nowhere else to go. All were currently taking a break from wearing
their armor, however, Warath still had quite a collection of belongings he
wouldn't entrust to anyone but himself.
His mood was a stormy one. Running his fingers through his now unruly
brown hair, Ben thought of how he and his companions had won their battle,
and yet he was still here. Maybe I am insane, he thought. He was more and
more beginning to doubt this was a dream of his own. However, he still
couldn't bring himself to believe that what had happened seemingly so long
ago under the police station had been real. Ben also doubted that he'd
died. He wouldn't believe that this was what happened to someone after
death. Ben tried reconciling himself to living life in this strange world,
but he doubted he would be able to enjoy it, especially since he believed
it could end at any moment.
"The King's dead?!" Ador asked surprised. This suddenly brought Ben
back to the present.
"What?!" Warath and Maina cried out. Dexler began paying more
"He isn't dead. He's being held hostage as are the rest of the royal
family. The ogre, Zakarzak, snuck in an army and attacked the royal
castle," the priest told them.
"I'll dethrone him," Falsayer said. He knew his life was leaking away,
and that he had nothing else truly around to occupy him. The Palladin
needed a cause to live for or perhaps die for.
"Perhaps we could help then," Warath said thoughtfully. "Those who
manage to restore order to a kingdom would most definitely reap some
reward." The mage grinned. "Sounds like a truly wonderful adventure to me."
"Surely, you're not serious," Falsayer asked in consternation. He
didn't like the sound of the only people he particularly felt comfortable
around coming with him to nearly certain death, but then again, maybe they
The priest gazed at the group with nearly the same consternation.
"There is a front where the royal guard has attempted to regroup around the
castle, but at the rate they're going at, it's likely they'll nearly be
done for by the time you reach them.
"Teleportation isn't something I've been able to figure out yet,"
Warath admitted. "Then again, we have horses, and those I know how to use."
"In the names of the Gods of Light, I shall do my best to restore order
to this realm," Falsayer vowed. "I am honored by offer of your presence,"
he said referring to the rest of the group. "But it is far more dangerous
than you might think."
"We know what we're doing," Dexler said, getting up and strolling
across the room. His warhammer hung at his belt.
"What are we to do in a kingdom ruled by an ogre?" Maina said. "It will
be anarchy. The least we can do is go as far as the castle. Then we'll
decide what to do from there."
"I'll join you," Ador said. "From what I've seen these past few days,
you may want my company."
"The Church is honored by the devoutness of its members to set things
right," the priest of the church said. "If I cannot reason with you against
what you plan, I will help you however I can."
"All we require is payment for services rendered," Warath said,
"That can be done," the priest replied.
None of them seriously considered that someone would liberate the
castle of the ogre before they ever arrived.
The throne room of the royal castle was painted with blood. Zakarzak
lifted his beaten face to look upon the witch. He seethed with anger as
the shackles bit into his wrists due the too short chains mounted high on
the wall. The eyes of the nine-foot menace fixed themselves upon Valtanna
who still wore the fine black clothes with demonic runes etched in silver
along the seams. They were more suited to a male noble than a female
witch, but she was comfortable, sitting cross-legged in the throne. The
king hung on the wall by a wall-mounted spike that was long enough to have
projected from his face. Mikalea stood at Valtanna's left.
Innumerable things arose in Zakarzak's mind, but he spoke none of them.
An ogre who managed to usurp a kingdom wouldn't usually turn out to be
stupid, but he had cunning equal to a respectable general. Telling the
witch he planned to rape her and worse wouldn't help his situation very
much. He hadn't decided to wait for her to bear him children or not before
he killed her.
"You murdered the king," he said, surpressing somewhat the anger in his
"You were a fool for not doing so. They'd seen you had him captive.
The threat has already been laid. His use was at an end."
Zakarzak couldn't come up with an argument that would do any good.
"You are going to kill a palladin for me, my dear savage," Valtanna
said with a grin aimed at Zakarzak.
"Alright," he said. "How do I find him?"
Damn, why he couldn't he resist any? Valtanna thought dryly, unamused.
She lifted her right arm and beganning swirling her fingers around in evil
patterns as she spoke a description of Falsayer. The magic conjured mental
images into Zakarzak who also gained a sense of where he was from the
spell. Also, weaved into the magic was something to ensure that he
wouldn't stray from the course. "Unchain him," she said.
Mikalea spoke a word, and the chains snapped open. "Go now," Valtanna
said. "Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha." Her laughter chilled him. He knew there were
things she was keeping from him, but he knew he couldn't take both
sorcerors down at once in his present condition or even at full strength
under these circumstances.
"Your weapons and armor are over there," the geomancer said, noticing
that the ogre was simply standing there. Valtanna flashed Mikalea an angry
glance, and he took a step back.
Zakarzak collected his belongings, splintmail and a giant battle-axe.
Once I'm beyond the walls, they'll never see me again, he thought to
himself. He allowed himself the satisfaction that he was going to spread
the word about the witch monarch and her murder of the hostage king.
Hopefully, a force would arrive to kill her off in but a few days. But
currently, bloodlust surged within him as the rage over his lost kingdom
grew. Heads were going to roll before his words spread far.
The nightsky over Randarsharav was darkened as clouds passed beneath
the stars and moon, blocking their light. Ador, Ben, and Falsayer slept in
the church rooms which were offered them. Warath and Maina had a separate
cottage in town as did Dexler. They hadn't lived their long, but they'd
wanted good lodgings for the months they had been there. However, few of
them would get any rest this dark night of nights.
A slam onto the counter awoke the innkeeper. "Huh! What is it?" His
eyes slowly focused to find the weary face of a blonde-haired nobleman.
"I'd like a room for the night," Falsayer said.
"But...," the innkeeper stammered incoherently. The night was nearly
halfway through. "Have you been travelling this late at night?"
"I needed a change of scenery."
"Alright," he said composing himself. "That'll be twelve pieces."
Falsayer handed over the coins and took the room key. Finally, I need
sleep, he thought to himself. He'd laid in bed for hours at the church,
but he couldn't rest. It'd reminded him too much of home.
As the moon reached its zenith behind the clouds, Maina and Warath
weren't asleep either. They were otherwise occupied.
Dexler wasn't. His breathing was almost completely silent as he lay on
the bed, one arm hanging over the edge. The sudden slamming of his body
against the wall awokened him with a start. His eyes quickly focused on
the man that had him grasped around the throat.
"The Crownsville guild has tracked you down, rogue," he harshly formed
the words. "You will now speak what we want to know or die."
Dexler could make out other images in the background. Perhaps, there
were two or three more. "You'll kill me anyway. Won't you?"
"We know this is the reason you fled," the man said, referring to
Dexler's right arm which he'd held up with his other hand. The bare arm
had a rune seared into it on the back of the wrist. "And we know what this
is. Everyone knows rune magic is a lost art. Or is it? Tell us how it
got there, and we may spare your life," he said, unreassuringly.
"It was on my last acquisition as you might suspect." Dexler pulled
himself free as he continued. "The cave was just south of the Dragonhorn
Moutains. I'd uncovered the location of a secret cache after slipping that
pitiful sadistic excuse for a wizard, Locar, a few droplets he wouldn't
recover from. His scrolls were most interesting." Dexler looked down as he
leaned his bare back against the wall. His red crop of hair obscured his
lowered face. He was well aware that his warhammer was probably in the
hands of one of the bastards already. The rogue held in his anger at that
thought. However, it was of little consequence to him where his sword was.
"Inside, I found a wonderful cache of treasure beyond belief. It was no
wonder Locar hadn't brought it home itself. Then again, the fact that he
couldn't transport it himself magically showed just what type of weakling
he was. I used the instructions he conveniently wrote down to get past his
complex traps which were no doubt hard for such an inept fool as him to
remember." Dexler paused for a second to recompose his forced wakefullness.
"However, once I found one of the magical blades and grabbed it, this rune
burned itself into my wrist. I ran away as fast as I could. Later, I
learned that I could call the blade that did this to me into my hand at
"What the...," one of images in the background gasped.
"Look here," Dexler said, driving the short sword upward into the
foreground man's heart. Running past the falling corpse, he slashed one of
the slow-to-react back-up men across the throat. His body fell with a thud
and two thunderous impacts. Dexler then knew who had held his warhammer
which had been with him for years, unlike the short sword which was a
development little over a year old.
The last man, who'd held the runesword, had drawn out his scimitar and
prepared himself into a battlestance. Without armor, Dexler knew that a
hit to himself would be severe and most likely deadly. He clenched his
teeth and let loose a startling battlecry. The opponent flinched, and
Dexler sweeped his blade around, deflecting the enemy scimitar from him and
driving his runesword through the man's kidneys. The man groaned and fell.
Struggling for breath and then having to recapture it as Dexler drew
his sword out of him, the guild member cried out with his dying breath:
Dexler saw a ring of torches flare up outside. They then hurled toward
his humble home which quickly became a raging inferno. Grabbing his
Tharkian warhammer, he prepared to flee. But where am I to go? Outside
definitely has me surrounded by guild assasssins, and I'll die by fire if I
remian here. If I do hide, which there is no place to do so, they'd sort
through the ashes until they found mine. I can fight flesh, he decided.
Unarmored, he rushed outside, charging with all the speed he could muster.
The sound of militiamen could be heard in the background, but the
assassins had to handle this escaping rogue before they themselves could
safely return. They'd fight the town knights if they had to. Dexler came
at them far faster than they thought the average guilder possible of. They
converged, but Dexler tore apart the first to stand in his way with the
warhammer and was past them before they could concentrate their attack.
Tripping on an unseen obstacle, Dexler flew forward and nearly lost
conscioussness when his head hit the ground. Screams in the background
could be heard of the guild assassins who hadn't fled before the town
knights and soldiers had come to slaughter them.
Dragging his feet across the cobblestone street, Dexler eventually
found the church which he then entered. He prayed a moment before lying
himself down in a pew and lapsing into slumber. Before the dreams took
him, he heard footsteps of an oncoming priest coming to investigate what
had slammed the main entrance doors.
The morning began with Dexler opening his eyes to a view more
comfortable than the one he had fallen asleep to. The priests, he thought.
The rogue then closed his eyes with hopes of perhaps some more rest.
Much later, Warath and Maina stood in front of Dexler's burnt out home,
looking at each other in worry. They began running for the church and
happened to run into Falsayer whose destination was the same. The three
ran into one of the town militia from whom they gleamed what had occurred
before reaching the church. There, they met Ador and Ben.
"What do you mean his house was burned out?!" Ben asked worriedly of
the mage, swordswoman, and palladin. Ador held his silence. Ben wondered
wether or not the priest knew what was going on. This wasn't the type of
situation Ben preferred to awake to, but having been a police officer, it
had happened before.
Warath explained. "It would seem that assassins from the Crownsville
Thieves' Guild attempted to eliminate Dexler. Six months ago he joined us
after having escaped his Crownsville connections. We needed a new member,
and he fit perfectly."
Descending footsteps sounded on the staircase, and Dexler's form
appeared on it. The room went silent immediately. Raising his head,
Dexler surveyed the room. He was dressed in fine clothing, but his looks
betrayed how he felt. "When do we leave, Warath?"
The mage collected himself before speaking. "It was today." Warath knew
that Dexler had already known the answer. "But perhaps we could delay to to
allow you time to recover from last night." He eyed Falsayer for approval.
Although it was Warath's group, it was Falsayer who they were accompanying
and not the other way around.
"The longer I stay here, the more danger I'll draw. I only need to
replace some basic supplies. Let's depart after that."
"Agreed?" Warath asked. Everyone gave their consent.
After picking up some studded-leather armor and clothing for Dexler,
the party acquired a horse for each member, excluding Ben who couldn't
ride. Ben had gotten a horse with Ador. The party set off soon after
having a final meal.
They'd chosen a more northward route than required in order to avoid
the Forest of Karis which was known to be a deathtrap. It had been
forgotten why the forest was called Karis's, but the fact was that it
wether Karis was a human or humanoid (male or female), the forest itself
was too dangerous for the comfort of most.
The Hills of Karis which the party now approached were known to be
barren which far more suited the likes of Warath. A popular rumor abounded
about a hydra, a many-headed monster of dragon-kind, who inhabited the
hills, but the party decided that one monster was better than a forest full
"This place doesn't look to abiding now does it?" Warath asked his
comrades. The landscape had taken a turn for the worse where the party's
now was. Blackened dirt was the ground which stretched the final mile to
the Hills of Karis. Hunks of melted glass were strewn about the black soil
where sand had once been, and every so many hundred yards, a few fragments
of burnt bark from shattered trees were embedded in the ground.
"Well then, perhaps a hydra does reside here after all," Dexler said.
"Are we going or not?" He asked.
"It would take a fool to not take these signs seriously," Maina
"I do take these signs seriously," Warath said. "But I don't see the
beast anywhere about, and the situation with this country government isn't
getting better any quicker. I say we ride. Objections?"
"I agree," Falsayer said. No one else spoke, so the horses started
forward across the wasteland. Their hooves spewed blackened dirt behind
The party rode for hours, and nothing living was ecountered. It had
been so long, in fact, that suns had begun to fall below the horizon. An
hour of daylight remained. Dissapointment swept through the party for they
didn't wish to rest so near where the rumored hydra was, but the landscape
had become more grassy now that they had finally reached the hills.
"We'd better start making camp soon," Warath said to the group.
"Let's wait until the suns touch the horizon," Falsayer suggested.
"Ho there! Come here!" A voice called from a distance not to far off.
The party turned to their left to see a small figure by one of the hill
where there appeared to be a human-sized opening.
Falsayer began to move his steed in the direction of the one who had
"Oh well," Warath said, turning his horse in direction of Falsayer. It
was considered rude to ignore someone less than a hundred yards away, and
this one was less than a hundred feet away. One would have to have quite a
voice to carry that far.
He was a dwarf, who like nearly all of of his dimunitive kind, wore a
beard and quite used-looking clothing. The horses approached him and
stayed their ground about twenty feet away. "Forgive me travellers, if I
have interrupted your journey, for I so rarely see anyone in these parts.
My name is Khisai Darchee, and I am the sole inhabitor of this land."
"What about the hydra?" Ben asked.
"Don't pay attention to any such rubbish!" The dwarf retorted. "If
there is one, I have never seen it but let us not talk of such things now.
If you had planned on staying the night around here, might I suggest that
my home here would be a far safer place to do so. We could then talk for
all night if you want."
"And what could we possibly offer in return?" Falsayer asked him.
"The presence of your group's company would be enough," Khisai said
Warath studied the dwarf figure with scrutiny. Looking at his aura, he
appeared to be sincere, but dwarves were always hard to read. Khisai cast
the mage a glance who didn't look away. "We thank you for your generosity,"
he said without conviction. He hoped that the tension he'd just felt arise
wouldn't last long if he were to be spending the night talking in his
Zakarzak stumbled along the path in exhaustion, profusely sweating. He
had been trying to turn from his path unsuccessfully for what seemed like
two whole days. This one was just nearing its end. He doubted the magic
would allow him to rest this night either. Whatever spell had been cast on
him, it had obviously been powerful enough to affect him which meant it was
most likely cast by the witch.
Everytime he tried to walk in a direction other than where the spell
wanted to go, unimaginable pain shot through his nerves, causing him to
fall to his knees. So far, he hadn't spoken to anyone important enough to
spread his message, and this made him angrier than anything else. It would
seem that the witch had won. The image of the palladin's face was in his
mind, and hate raged through him like fire. All he could do was to
superimpose, with all his mental strength, the visage of Valtanna over that
of her enemy.
The party sat within the dwarve's hill in a carved-from-stone dining
room. There were seats enough for all, and even though the walls were of
rock, the atmosphere was accomodating. After leading the party down a
narrow passageway from the outside, the dwarf had brought them here for
food and drink. They currently enjoyed their drinks. The answers to most
of their questions were unknown by the dwarf, but he seemed quite
interested to know about what was happening in the kingdom.
"If you shall wait here a moment," Khisai said, putting down his mug.
"I shall bring you the food now. It should be ready to be preprared." He
then left, closing the door behind him as he had when he came in.
"He's not very helpful is he?" Dexler asked, somewhat dissapointed.
"At least the drink is good," Maina replied.
Falsayer coughed violently. "There is something foul in this drink," he
stated and looked over at Dexler. Warath looked up in alarm at Dexler.
"If there is something in here," Dexler said, looking into his cop.
"We'll know soon enough." He lifted the goblet to his nose from the stone
table and slowly took in the aroma. He then tasted it again. Carefully,
he began doing so again.
"Well," Maina asked.
"Deathdust, if I'm not mistaken."
Falsayer left his chair to open the door which he found locked. The
bolt on the other side hardly rattled at all as the platemailed man tried
to remove the very door by force. Falsayer drew his holysword and began
hacking his way through. The door was wood, but it was covered in metal
plate from the room's inside.
"I have no cure for this," Dexler said. "I only hope that we're strong
enough to survive."
"I can try to stop the poison, but it will take awhile," Warath said,
moving behind Maina. He grasped her shoulders and concentrated, trying to
slow the killing flow and destroy it with his mind. Falsayer groaned at
the door and then fell against it.
"We don't have awhile," Dexler observed. Ben drew his longsword and
moved to help Falsayer at the door. On the way, his knees buckled, but he
managed to make it to the metal-wood barrier. "I'll see what I can do with
my power," Ador said, moving to help the pair at the door.
Meanwhile, Khisai Darchee had made his way through another passage to
the kitchen. It was, in fact, ready to make food, but Khisai had yet to
cook the meal. He pulled a lever on the wall, and then moved over to the
small suit of platemail on the wall. It was just small enough to fit the
stature of a dwarf.
In the dining room, the lever Darchee pulled was having an immediate
effect. Barred ports were revealed along where the walls met the ceiling.
From these portals, flames shot forth, engulfing each place where a person
would be seated at the table.
Dexler saw the ports opening and screamed warning as soon as he
realized something was happening. Warath pulled Maina to the floor as
flames enshrouded the chair she had been in. Fire shot out, flaming the
doorway out and setting Ben affire. Falsayer's platemail protected him
somewhat, so he dragged Ben out of the blaze despite his poisoned
condition. The fire shot into the passageway through the holes Falsayer
and Ben had cut. The outside layer of the door which was wood caught fire.
As the flames continued to pour out, they grew in size. The stone table
grew red. Ador's robes turned black as fire raced up them despite their
low flammability. Warath, covering Maina and himself with his fire
invulnerable cloak, began casting a spell against flame for the party's
benefit as the heat slowly found its way around the cloak's folds onto his
flesh. Dexler, backed against a wall, screamed as he burned. The sigil on
his arm glowed intensely as it offered limited protection. Its shining was
visible even through the fire.
The fire began slowly dying out as they though they'd reached their
breaking point. Warath's spell had helped somewhat in the respect that
they at least weren't dead or more horribly disfigured. Maina and himself
had fared the best through the fire. As Warath tried to rise, the poison
hit, and he collapsed on his back, writhing in pain. Maina rushed to his
aid though there was little she could do to help.
Falsayer gritted his teeth as he bore heated platemail. Ador and Ben
were putting out their few remaining flames, but Dexler's anger was hotter
still. His face was black with warped and twisted flesh. "I'm going to
kill that dwarf! The bastard is toast!" Gripping his warhammer in his left
hand which sizzled as hot metal met hot flesh, he used it to smash through
the remains of the door and entered the passage, holding out his runesword
pointed downward from his right hand. He couldn't surpress screams of pain
as he proceeded. Falsayer attempted to go after him, but his heated armor
kept him in too much agony for his steps to follow a straight path. He
began removing it as quickly as he could.
Ben got up and followed with Ador in tow. "Help them," Warath told
Maina. "You can't do anything. I need to rest." He slipped into a trance,
careful to make sure that it wasn't a relaxing sleep from which he would
Dexler moved down the passage in agony. He recalled a side tunnel on
the right when they entered which would mean it was now to the left. He
searched through tear-streaked eyes to see a short dark figure appear
before him. Khisai swung his goupillon flail into the rogue's stomach.
Each spiked ball landed home, propelled by the shaft Darchee held that was
linked to each by a chain. Dexler moved to stab the dwarf, but his aim was
off. Sparks flew as the runesword sliced along the side of the dwarven
helm to partially impale Khisai down through the left shoulder. Darchee
simultaneously swung his two-handed flail upwards into Dexler's head and
shoulders, knocking him onto his back. Khisai stepped forward to slam the
rogue again with his weapon, but Ben arrived to parry his deathblow.
"Awfully feisty for dinner ain't we?!" Khisai yelled in dwarven.
"Out of the way," Maina yelled, causing Ben and Ador to step to the
side a bit. She pulled back the notched arrow on her longbow and let it
fly. The arrow embedded itself in the dwarve's chest through his armor.
Ben attacked Khisai vigorously as Maina strung another arrow. Weak from
the poison and suffering third-degree burns from the fire, Ben still almost
defeated the dwarf, but the goupillon flail hit him harder than he could
take. Ben fell, and another of Maina's arrows embedded itself in Darchee's
platemail. Swinging his mourning star, Ador struck the stumbling dwarf
down. Khisai attempted to rise, but Maina stood above him and fired an
arrow through his back. Darchee's screams were short.
Ador rushed to Dexler and Ben. His healing magic told him that they
were salvagable much to his relief. From down the passage, came Falsayer
without armor, gripping his sword. "Is it over?" He asked.
"Hopefully not for us," Maina replied. "Ador's doing what he can. I've
got to check on 'Rath." Maina proceeded back to the dining room.
"I'll check out the rest of this place," Falsayer said to Ador and
Maina as he moved to go where Darchee had come from.
Moving into the kitchen, he saw pots cooking boiling water. Going
through some of the items, he came across a human limb with bite marks.
Elven parts were also in the leftovers. A dwarven skull adorned the wall
The party did decide to rest there for the night. Falsayer's disgust
over the dwarven cannibal wasn't greater than the need to rest. There were
suitable quarters among the many carved out rooms. Healing took up a large
portion of their time, and sleep took the rest of it.
Deep in the lower levels of the multi-planar universe, Ned's spirit
streaked past Lanta and headed for the rim of the Abyss. The insubstantial
entity possessed an inhuman craving for energy, energy that would allow him
to rise again to the material plane. For although Falsayer's holysword had
severed his connections to his material body, it hadn't destroyed him by
far. He still possessed most of what he was when he had been cut down.
However, Ned also retained a bit of his humanity that had been mostly
annihilated in his transformation into a minion of Lanta. This part of him
cried out for release but couldn't rein in the demon impulses, no matter
how hard it tried.
Below him now was a wisp of power that could only be the entity he
sought. It matched the description in every way but one: Where there had
used to be only apathy for Ned, now this spirit harbored a deep hatred of
the human turned Rocor minion. This entity that Ned targetted could be
sensed to be currently engulfing another much weaker soul.
"Mama...," Ned briefly thought before he sunk his immaterial tendrils
home into the target's insubstantial flesh. "I've come for you again!
Look what your magic has made me you bitch!!!"
The struggling spirit focused its energy on what had been her son when
she was mortal. "You bastard..." She tried channeling her power into a
blast which would destroy him, but she was overwhelmed. The lesser entity
which she had ensnared now turned on her. Its thoughts assailed her as the
spoken word was useless in the realms of the dead, however, it could be
roughly translated into mortal speech as an endless string of hateful
"Revenge isn't good enough once!" Ned screamed as he opened himself up
for her. "It's even sweeter the second time!" His glowing massless form
grew razor-like teeth that engulfed her and began absorbing her energy and
existance. "Which is the final time!" She was drawn in, and Ned's power
increased tenfold, utterly destroying her. Ned was nearly sated. His
surging power calmed to a low pulse.
The lesser power at the Abyss's rim which had been pounding on Ned's
prey now lurked there, uncertain where to go. Ned focused on this
loathesome being and drew forth a feeling of recognition. This pitiful
excuse for a lifeform had been his father, a father who had dissappeared
from his mother's life shortly after learning of her pregnancy. The spirit
of Ned's father trembled as it realized who was realizing who he was.
Anger was partly responsible for the act, but Ned drew in his father
and absorbed him as callously as could be possible, shredding his immortal
spirit. Even the human part of him revelled in the act. These were those
he blamed for the destruction of his life, a life he intended to return to
no matter what the consequences. One thing remained left for him to deal
with. Racing upwards to the material plane, a cowering entity tried to
avoid the oncoming beam that was his brother, Ned. The blast tore through
him and integrated the power into his own. The material plane came up
ahead fast, and before he knew it, Ned had hit the boundaries between life
In the passages of the Tomb of Iditele, a boom occured that would have
been audible for a mile around had anyone been there to hear it. Crackling
energies were left to fall to the shattered stone floor from which a body
had been snatched. Many miles to the northwest did the entity and its body
Mostly recovered, the party gathered outside the cave at high noon.
Dexler's face had been worked on by Ador's magic and was thus healed.
However, he could still feel where the scars would have been. "Well folks,"
Warath began. "We have here a map that will take us through the quickest
route possible to escape from these parts, however, it leads straight
through the Forest of Karis. What say you?"
"The legends about that place are even worse than what can be proved
about it," Ador said. "I suggest we use the hills even though they may take
"I fear no forest," Falsayer proclaimed from his mount. "I'll take
whichever route your party can handle, Warath."
"I wish to leave this place far behind," Dexler scowled.
"Whatever's fine with me," Ben said, unsure of just how terrible any
particular route was.
"Let's just use the hills," Maina said. "We have one objection to the
forest, and the rest of us don't care." The sky began to darken to reddish
hue in the west.
"That could be difficult," Dexler said. "That reddish tint to our west
is a rising deathdust storm. I have no idea how the soil from that
venomous desert made it out here though." The rogue began to worry about
how the deathdust sands had made it out of the Deathlands. The Temmerow
Kingdom was shielded from that fatal landscape by the Spine of Zinx, the
Spine being the central mountain range that ran north to south along the
world of Zinx. The Deathlands themselves lay in the valleys between the
numoreous ranges that made up the tall Spine. It was the height of the
Spine that bothered him. No natural occurence should have been able to
bring the deadly sands into Temmerow across that height.
"Well then, let's make through the Forest before we have to breathe
anymore of that poison!" Warath announced. "Hyaah!" He spurred his horse
forward towards the treeline. The rest of the group followed fast behind.
Ador looked worriedly over his right shoulder to the sandstorm as they rode
into the Forest.
Although it was late morning, the Forest hastily engulfed the party in
shadows. Light barely trickled down from the green canopy that was held up
by huge trees, many of which appeared to be dead. The horses road along
the path which was wonderfully upkept despite the place's horrible
reputation. Someone must have tended to it, several members of the group
thought. By Warath's estimation, they should be beyond the trees in less
than an hour.
"This place bodes ill," Falsayer said to Ador from his galloping mount.
"I believe I agree with your earlier statement about this forest."
"It seems to me that the dead are all around us, trapped in the shells
of these trees. They almost seem to be crying out in torment... or anger."
"I can feel the land sapping away what remains of my life. The sooner
we're out of here the better."
"Hey!" Warath yelled back to the group. "Couldn't you guys have a
cheerful conversation for a change?!" He meant it half as a jest and half
as an attempt to get them to shut up. He didn't need anymore dark thoughts
or ill tidings than he already had.
"With this forest all around," Maina said, putting her horse adjacent
to his. "You can hardly blame them."
"I know. I get the same feeling. That's why I could do without
everyone else carrying on about it."
"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall," Ben sang softly to himself.
Hoping to ward off whatever evils may have lurked in the shadows.
Dexler rode in silence. In his mind, he wondered what sort of
reception would meet him in Crownsville. The party would no doubt wish to
stop there. It was the next to civilized locale on their course, and there
weren't going to be many oppurtunities.
The horses began to whine and slow down. If it weren't for Ador's
calmly whispred prayers to calm the beasts, they would have no doubt sent
the party sprawling. Up ahead on the path, a figure emerged from the dark
foliage. He seemed to have simply stepped out of nothing, and where he
stepped was but three horses from Warath and his nervous mount.
The bone armor the dark elf wore was grisly and frightening in mere
appearence. He held a bone made bow before him and aimed it in the party's
general direction. His shoulder length white hair was the brightest thing
in forest besides his bone equipment. They shimmered in what little light
made it to the ground. "I've let you ride through the Forest of Karis for
long enough," the delf began in the Temmerow tounge. "But you obviously
have no gratitude for your wellfare. I, Sith, shall allow you to pass on
but one condition. You must sacrifice one of your own here and now.
Consecrate this ground with their blood."
Finally, the party became speech capable. Warath was the one to
answer. "We cannot do that, but we must pass. We will fight you, Sith, if
"For that, you must die!" Sith released a sharpened bone arrow that
spiralled into Warath's chest. The psychic mage screamed and tried to grip
the tip that had exited his back.
"Rath!" Maina screamed out in horror and astonishment. Ador rushed to
his side as Maina drew her blade and got her mount to charge. Sith fired
another arrow as Maina was in the process of drawing her blade. This
razor-sharp femur found an entrance in Ador's side. The cleric screamed
and half-slumped onto Warath. Ben held the priest onto the horse.
Maina prepared to strike with her blade when from behind her, she heard
a gasping voice form itself into a shout, "We're leaving now!" Warath
yelled as the delf notched another femur. With the arrow through his body,
Warath moved his horse forward. Maina, as she passed, took one downward
swing at Sith who parried with his bow easily.
Angered by the escape of his prey, the dark elf attempted to grab a
hold on Maina to unhorse her, but Falsayer had other plans. The holysword
fell upon Sith's wrist as his delven hand closed about Maina's leg,
severing his wrist. The group rode past him, including Ador whose horse
was guided by the inexperienced but frightened Ben. Sith stood glaring as
he watched them flee. With his left hand gripping his bow and his right
stump held out spurting blood, he screamed with rage.
However futile his cry might have seemed, he was far from helpless.
Holding his bleeding stump before him, he lowered his eyes in reverent
prayer. "O'Astarte, Avatar of Undeath, Hear My Call, I Pray to You in Hope
of Aid Against the Enemies of Karis, Who Have Maimed Me Physically But Who
Have Failed to Break My Faith!" With the prayer complete, Sith went into a
summoning hymn as the bloody stump he held before his face continued to
shoot out the fluid that kept him alive.
The light of the forest seemed to fall even dimmer. Swirling darkness
formed a tunnel in the sky from which a figure descended. Black plumes of
vapor rose from the ebony armor that the figure wore. His pale face was
beautiful, yet without warmth. He was death, undeath. "Astarte has heard
your call, Sith." Astarte proceeded to wave his hand up the stump of the
dark elf whose hand reformed upon the maimed limb as the Vatar willed it
to. "It is good to see you again. You've done well. Although, it would
have been better had you won your last fight." The Undeath Vatar's smirk
was formed of humorless maliscious humor. It was as close as he came to
the real thing. Every movement he made was formed of someone else's pain.
He had died long ago, but his undeath was sustained by the power of the
dead, willing or not. His tortured batteries wailed within their rotting
prisons which held aloft the light dampening canopy.
"A-ugh!" Maina voiced her digust as she removed the quivering hand from
her ankle. It fell to the path and was quickly left behind by the group's
galloping horses. The horses weren't just running because of their rider's
wishes. They were riding from their own fear.
Ador gaspingly muttered the words of his healing magic to counteract
his mortal wound. The arrow was pushed from his body by the holy power.
Warath rode on, looking through a haze that was his own pain. Maina
brought her horse up to his and yelled at him to stop, so Ador could heal
"No time, must escape from here," the mage mumbled. He could sense a
great evil settling over the forest as could Ador and Falsayer. Trying to
block out the pain, Warath began the words of a spell that would hopefully
cloak them from whatever would soon be following. Several horses behind
him, Ador began a prayer that he hoped would help the bleeding wizard.
Astarte moved through the eternally dying foliage like the wind. His
feet never touched the ground. What he was feeling was frustration at not
being able to locate the Forest's invaders. Meanwhile, Sith tracked the
group on foot. Although progressing slowly, no magic was having the
slightest effect on his tracking. Upon determining their adherence to the
path, he mentally called his mount to him. The steed arrived within
seconds. It was creature that appeared to be a horse with a coat of a dark
shade of gray with bony fragments jutting from its flesh. Red stains of
its own blood adorned the steed's body. It glared at its rider with hatred
but obeyed Sith's commands nonetheless. "Follow them right down that path,"
Sith said soothingly to the beast in delven. "Move your legs at their
fastest, or the pain won't be to your liking."
Upon his order, Sith's steed galloped forward at a speed equal to the
kingdom's fastest. The intake of its breath was heavy as was the exhale
which emptied lungs with far more volume than any normal steed. This was
no horse but was a beast Sith had tamed by allowing it to live in an
infinitely durable state of ectasy and agony. The two feelings fed off
each other, and with this promise of continued tortured nourishment, he'd
coerced the creature into a state that would provide him with a formidable
mode of transportation. The mount's jagged wounds embedded with the
skeletal remains which provided the steed with its nourishment of torture
began to bleed as its muscles moved faster, propelling it forward like a
juggernaut. These bone shards that impaled it were crafted by the delf in
the Forest of Karis with the purest of painful agonies he could embalm them
Before the hands of Karis could enclose them, the party's horses passed
the forest boundary. Warath gripped the arrow in his chest for a moment,
nearly screamed, and put his hand back to the horse. For somehow he felt
stronger than he normally would under these circumstances. Actually, such
an attack would normally have killed someone, but his luck had been holding
out well just as he'd been holding on to conscioussness. Unknownst to him,
Ador's prayers for him had come through, but that didn't change the fact
that if the femur arrow had pierced him just a few inches from where it had
he'd be dead.
Astarte stopped and landed at the point where the path exited the
forest. Galloping up from behind him were Sith and his monstrous mount.
The Death Vatar looked over his shoulder and said, "You're too late."
"I'll follow them," Sith volunteered.
"No, you'll stay here. I shall prepare for their demise. You'll
follow me when I do."
"Yes, Lord." With that, Sith turned and moved deeper into the realm of
dead foliage. The Death Vatar remained behind, concentrating on extending
the range his soul trees would provide him with energy to sustain his
"I, Astarte Karis, command you souls locked within the prison of my
"Morning, Day One since the Forest of Karis," Maina wrote in her
journal. She began the next line. "Rath nearly died of blood loss last
night, but Ador was able restore his body with his holy magic. I couldn't
have written this last night, but now that it's morning, I can honestly
look back and say it was a day not unlike a few others. I've grown to
accustomed to it I fear.
We encountered a dark elf named Sith in that forest. He put arrows
through Rath and our priest. Something happened afterwards, but I couldn't
tell what. I suspect we should look out for him in the future."
Dexler looked up as he put on his leather armor and noticed Maina deep
in her work. Slightly surprised that a sell-sword like her could write, he
moved over in the direction of Warath. He was treading lightly on the
grass of the wilderness spot where they'd stopped for the night. They
would have preferred something more civilized, but they couldn't be choosy
with one of their own dying.
"How are you feeling," Dexler asked. Warath was already sitting up in
his bedroll, staring about groggily.
"I feel great, but the memories still hurt."
"We should make the mountains in a five days. There's not much on the
way I'm afraid. Unfortunately, by that I mean a lack of civilization and
not a lack of danger."
"And after that, we must cross the mountains."
"Hopefully, this map from my Guild days will still hold true."
"I wish to be past this as quickly as possible. So, we'll see if your
route is any good. Then it's only a day until Crownsville."
"I still recommend against Crownsville," Dexler said. "You know well
from my story that they give adventurers a hard time. If they find out how
prosperous we've been, they'll make us Guild members wether we're thieves
or not. They'll make us thieves, and if we escape, you'll all become
rogues like me."
"We need the supplies they can give us. What we need to do is leave
here as quickly as possible and worry about Crownsville later. However,
breakfast comes first."
The trek across the land was fairly peaceful. It was the most rest the
company had gotten since they'd been assigned the mission of guarding the
church convoy to Talboria. However, only three of the original party still
lived: Warath, Maina, and Dexler. The other two had been killed in Ned's
initial assault upon the convoy trailers. Dexler had been the only
surviving member of their group when Maina, Warath, and Ben arrived on the
Now, the three mercenaries and their dimensionally stranded comrade
were accompanied by a priest and palladin. Ador had never loved the couped
up environment of the church and relished this oppurtunity to traverse the
country with a group he knew wouldn't bore him. However, the priest's
horse along with the rest of their the group's steeds weren't keen on the
high mountain air or temperature, and Ador knew it. He tried a few words
from a simple prayer to calm animals and hoped it would alleviate their
stress somewhat. The wind chose that moment to pick up, and the wind chill
increased considerably. Ador rewrapped his cloak around himself somewhat
The group was nearly halfway across the Lotus Mountains, and they were
quite happy with their progress, although they would have preferred to have
been all the across them and in the process of leaving the peaks behind.
The cold of the altitude couldn't be prevented from souring the palladin's
thinking as he rode on. The cold claw of Death is near, Falsayer thought
to himself. He knew he was dying and everything reminded him of that fact.
Falsayer had no regrets about what he had done. Ra, the God of Light, had
given him a choice to be given all of his future life's energy to be used
in a moment of otherwise unescapable death. Now, that life leaked out of
him for he wasn't capable of containing such power. Soon, it would all be
gone except for a moment's worth, and after that moment, death would claim
him for he would have no more energy to carry his life on. His only wish
is that it could have been quicker. Now, he carried himself onward towards
a goal that no one else would have possibley volunteered for, and the
people he trusted most were following him right into the worst kind of
danger with the odds stacked against them so high and unbalanced that they
threatened to topple upon them with a final crushing blow.
The land the ventured into suddenly turned dark. Burnt grass and fire-
blackened dirt cushioned their footfalls. To their right, a burnt out keep
stood, and that wasn't the worst part. Bodies of the dead hung from
windows and lay strewn about the ground. An arm lay not twenty feet from
where the travellers stood.
"Dear gods," Warath said. "These are the King's men. Zakarzak must
have been very thorough."
Falsayer could sense something coming, and it wasn't his unpreventable
expiration that he was sensing. It was something far more tangible. "I
feel something's terribly wrong," he said to the whole party and not to any
particular individual. "Whatever did this or something perhaps worse is
here I fear."
"I feel it too," Ador said. "It's like a blot of evil."
"Where's it coming from," Warath asked demandingly.
"I can't tell, but it will be here soon," Falsayer replied.
"Something tells me it's coming from over there!" Dexler pointed to
where a cloud of dust was quickly rising. Whatever it happened to be was
kicking up a great amount of dirt under the horizon where the mountain
slopes led to lower altitudes. It was in the direction they'd come from.
"We won't be able to fight a prolonged fight very well up here in this
thin air," Maina said, drawing her longbow and notching an arrow.
What was responsible for creating the cloud quickly came over the
horizon and into view. The dark armored figure looked out at them across
the cracked and vegetationless ground. His skin was so pale as to appear
white. His thin lips curved into a slight smile before he spoke. "Karis
has decided that you shall not survive for so rudely tresspassing through
his domain. You may call me Astarte with your last dying breaths. I have
no need of your names. I'll know them soon enough. Souls are so very
truthful." With that, he took a step forward and stretched out his left
arm. From his raised right hand, white energy surged from Warath into
Astarte's grasp. Warath screamed.
Maina wasted no time in firing her arrow. In fact, it was in flight
even as Karis began drawing in her lover's life. Her dissapointment would
quickly follow. The arrowhead ceased movement upon striking Astarte's
armor and the shaft shattered under the force. Energy drawn from the
psychic mage danced about Astarte's hands. He then unleashed it back at
his victim with murderous roar. Warath could only curse loudly as he still
recovered from the initial attack and was blown off his horse by the blast.
A long gulley now lay in the mountain soil. Astarte continued to advance
and rotated his arms about back into their original position upon which
Ador screamed as white power was drained from him into the Death Vatar's
grasp. The priest charged after leaping from his mount although his
faltering steps caused him to stumble as he did so.
Not the sort to stand by as friends were slain, Ben, Falsayer, and
Dexler all charged their attacker. As they proceeded, a white hot blast
ripped up the earth as it headed towards a helpless to resist
Ador. His scream echoed across the peaks, and his body was thrown back far
too many feet for his taste. Maina strung another arrow and prepared to
fire just as she saw another figure approach. This one was clad in bone-
white armor and had skin the color of night. Maina swung her bow in Sith's
direction, but he released his shaft first. The femur-made arrow impaled
itself through Maina's right shoulder, causing her shot to go astray.
The three warrior's had almost reached Astarte as he prepared another
draining blast. "Wait!" They heard Warath cry. He rose shakily and hastily
began the words to an incantation. Astarte reaimed his arms in the
direction of the torn and bloodied mage, but not in time to prevent his
spell. A bolt of magic rocketed towards Karis who found himself unable to
avoid it. The resulting explosion consumed and blasted the air above and
the ground beneath with tremendous force. A rumbling provided a steady
stream of sound.
As the blast cleared, an armored-black arm rose high holding a
shimmering lash, Astarte whipped it towards Warath who dodged for his life
and succeded. The ground shuddered and an imprint of the soul-formed whip
was left in a straight line in the soil all the way back to Karis. Warath
began another spell as he tried to shakily regain his feet upon the
At this moment, Falsayer realized they had another enemy. Sith
released a bone-shaft straight at the palladin's heart. He tried to dodge
and was partially successfull. The shaft penetrated seven inches through
his platemail into his flesh far to the right of his targeted vital organ.
Dexler was now mad. Enraged by the destruction wrought on his friends that
would soon be aimed at him, he drew forth a wicked dagger and hurled it at
the dark elf. Sith's eyes widened as he saw the blade streak towards him.
It buried itself to the hilt just below his collar bone. He stumbled
backwards in a panic as the world rumbled around him.
Warath next slammed a column of force from the sky upon the Death Vatar
whose coiling whip had retracted for another blow. It hit hard with an
impact that sounded of a cannonball-firing armed regiment. Astarte was
driven into the ground, and his Vatari, armor, cracked under the incredible
force. From the crater, he quickly stood himself upright, hurling the
striking end of his whip at his foe with no fury restrained. Warath was
unable to get his battered legs to move from its path, and so he felt the
body shattering power of its attack strike him in the torso, sending him
flying back with the sound of breaking bones. The length of the whip hit
the ground between them hard. And, that was all it could take.
A great snapping sound louder than any yet filled the air as the middle
of the battleground sunk into a crater and then collapsed into a dark
abyss. Astarte rose himself up into the air above a ground which no longer
existed, threw his whip out to Sith who it enwrapped and prevented from
falling into the darkness while their screaming enemies fell, and fell, and
fell until nothing of them was visible.
"Oh...," Ben's sentenced went unfinished as it degenerated into an
animal cry when the ground crumbled away. Falling, he suddenly felt
himself slowing, leaving behind the chunks of earth that went trailing into
the darkness. If he'd known the crippled Warath was responsible for the
spell, Ben wouldv'e thanked him for hour on end, but he had no idea and
wondered what would happen next.
Ben screamed in terror as he slammed into a solid object and felt as if
his entire body would be torn apart. The impact was a mere jarring though,
compared to what it could have been. The flat surface he laid upon
suddenly buckled, and he couldn't suppress a cry of, "Not again!" However,
the cry left his lips as a garbled curse. Ten feet later, he hit hard
again, and his headache increased tenfold. He lay there wishing the pain
would go away, and slowly, it did. Ben flexed his fingers, fearful of them
being broken, and opened his eyes slowly, trying to adjust to the light.
It appeared as if the sunlight was beginning to reach down to into the
chasm in which he was recovering.
Ben found it hard to believe what his eyes were telling him. The
rubble around him appeared to be the walls of an ancient dwelling. A door
was visible to either his left or right. He couldn't currently decide
which. Metal objects dully glittered around him from the sunlight,
something their surfaces hadn't felt in centuries. A sudden explosion from
somewhere nearby quickly brought him back to more of his senses. His eyes
focused on an object lying a few feet from him. It was a gun! Clumsily
staggering and dragging himself forward, he grabbed the gun in his right
hand and flung himself to his feet. Managing to fall left, he landed
against the wall with the door. He then began pushing it open, using fury
more than common sense.
Maina collapsed under Sith's sword swipe, her strength faltering from
the thin mountain air and the viscious wound of the dark elf's arrow. She
fell upon her back onto Warath who was Sith's primary target. Maina's two-
handed sword fell from her grasp into the thick dust lining the floor.
In a different section of the ruins, Falsayer flew backwards and landed
with a thud upon the hard rock in response to Astarte's uppercut. As he
drew back his soul lashing whip to enwrap the palladin, the stone and metal
door to one of the ancient dwellings exploded outward. Astarte Karis
turned his startled head. The remaining portions of the door crumbled,
having lost their support. Barely walking straight, Ben emerged into the
open, firing his gun! The first shot went wild, blasting a man-sized hole
into a dwelling's wall. Karis whipped his soul lash forward at Ben, but
Ben's second shot connected with Astarte's Vatari chestplate, blowing it to
bits and knocking the Death Vatar backwards across the battlefield.
Falsayer looked with amazed eyes upon Ben, "You did that?"
"This did," he responded, looking at the gun. He then realized it had
no trigger. Looking at it dumbfounded, the sudden fury he'd been engrossed
in finally left him. That's when they heard Maina screaming.
Sith lifted his blood-dripping blade from the deep slice in the
swordswoman. Disorientated, Warath's face gazed straight at the bone-
armored woodsman. Reversing his grip on the hilt, Sith pointed it downward
to impale the two adventurers together. A trampling of the ground behind
him alerted the delf to another's presence. He turned to see Dexler
charging at him with warhammer in hand.
"DIE YOU BASTARD!" Sith heard Warath scream. He looked back at his
prey and thrust the sword downward as his eyelids suddenly bulged wide
open. His thrust struck with no strength. Blood dripped onto his bone-
armor, trailing from his tearing eyelids. Warath's animal growl was
drowned out by Sith's screams.
The flesh peeled back from the dark elf's face, leaving the bloody
skull and muscle exposed. His arms dislocated, and his ribs bulged out,
making quick work of his skin. The ribs were suddenly joining the bone
armor's chestplate. Arms dangled loosely as an artery broke, and his
kneecaps were ripped from his leg bones which twisted into broken shards.
Dexler stood limply, watching in disbelief as Sith sunk into a mangled
heap of stomach-wrenching gore. What he hadn't noticed was Warath's bloody
hemorraging that the use of his mind powers had caused. Dexler would have
sworn he stood there just staring in disbelief for hours, but Falsayer and
Ben arrived in minutes, fearing Maina dead.
Ador arrived with his mourning star dangling from a chain ready to be
implemented. He stood watching as a broken Astarte rose up from the
ground. The bloodied thing rose into the air and cursed. "Your souls shall
roast for eternity, and your minds will freeze into oblivion!" These words
left Astarte's lips in a voice that chilled the Priest of Light's very
spirit. It was not the voice of anything mortal that spoke the words.
Ben saw the rising shape of the Vatar, aimed his gun, and fired. Only,
nothing happened. He looked at his weapon dumbfounded. How am I supposed
to fire this if it has no trigger? How did I?
Falsayer was on knees praying for his two dying companions next to the
heap of gore. Ador arrived on the scene in a few moments only to be yelled
at. "Do something! You can can't you?!" Ben asked the priest about the two
people who had rescued and taken him in when he first arrived in their
Ador dropped his mourning star onto the ground and examined his two
friends. The cleric tried to avert his attention from the pool of Warath's
blood which surrounded him. Lost in concentration and prayer, the others
The next day, the group was still amongst the mountain ruins. The only
route they planned on taking was back up, and that would require Warath's
magic. Unfortunately, the mage wasn't fully recovered. He and Maina spent
all their time together as he recuperated. The others wandered about but
didn't stray to far. Caverns extended deep into the mountain range,
caverns they didn't wish to explore or draw anything out of. Eventually,
Ben came to Warath. He didn't know who else to approach about his "gun"
and thought the mage might be interested in any case.
"So this is what you used to drive off Astarte?" Warath asked weakly.
"Beautiful," he said, admiring the runes and artwork inlaid into its dully
"Do you know how it works?" Ben asked.
"I believe so," the mage said. "I used to work as a loremaster in the
king's castle. After I met Maina, I left when my contract ran out, but I
did see things like this while I was there." Warath held out the "gun" and
barely concentrated. "It would seem to amplify mind powers into crude
blasts. Pity we can't stay to look for more such items, but we must leave
tonight in case Astarte makes good on his vow to return."
"I think you should start practicing with this device," Warath told
Ben. "You wouldn't have been able to use it if you didn't have some latent
powers. Try focusing your emotions through it. Anger would serve well.
Just don't point it at anything you don't want blasted."
So, this is where they came from, Warath thought to himself. That's
it! The King must have positioned those soldiers and that keep near here
to guard this find. It wouldn't do for the wrong people to find weapons
such as these.
From a distance, Warath heard a short and quick boom. It was like a
thunderous crack of tree limb. He must be learning, Warath thought.
Ben held out the blaster before him. He looked down the barrel to see
the stone door to one of the buildings beginning to crumble due to the
hideous cracks emanating from the hole he'd blown through it. Finally, Ben
thought. Now I can start fighting my way.
The next morning, Falsayer's group had from their rations what they
considered to be a pathetic breakfast. They quickly gathered up their
belongings and moved to under the hole that they'd fallen through into
their dungeon of ruins and lost civilizations. "Now just everybody stay
within the circle, and you won't fall off," Warath told them. He motioned
with his right hand and whispered a word. An invisible force lifted the
party upward and placed them hovering at the mouth of the hole. Without
waiting around, they each jumped off the levitating force and landed on
good old solid ground.
Their horses were nowhere to be found, and they travelled on foot for
the rest of the day. By the time sunset began approaching, they were tired
and disappointed at their slow progress. When they chose a spot to set up
camp, there were no words for their disbelief. Their horses were within
sight and were quickly rounded up. Warath and Falsayer check them, but
they seemed to be neither magical recreations or any other sort of evil
deception. Falsayer and Ador prayed heavily that night, knowing that
tommorow they would be out of the mountains.
Astarte spied on his enemies from afar. Hovering over a thousand feet
above the party, he clutched at the still not yet healed wound in his
chest. With its dark magic, his broken Vatari was repairing itself from
the scraps that used to be armored plates which still clung to his body.
He'd taken the time to clean himself up, however, and looked formidable
despite his condition.
The next morning was a happy one for Zakarzak. The ogre knew his prey
was near. The shady trees of the forest protected his body from the hot
rays of the suns. Somehow his armor and weapon seemed lighter today.
Elation was what he knew he was feeling. Soon now, I'll end this curse.
I'll maket that witch, Valtanna, pay!
Zakarzak sensed several figures up ahead on the wooded path. Gripping
his giant battleaxe in his ogre hands. He moved to the side of the path
and tried to blend into the scenery to surprise his quarry coming around
the corner. The ogre in his somewhat regal splintmail didn't blend all
that well, but it the foliage blocked anyone's sight of him who would be
coming around the bend.
The first figure came into sight, and Zakarzak stepped forward,
swinging his axe to meet the target's chest. The plate armored figure
rolled back with the blow but knocked down by the blow. Five other figures
moved into fighting stances behind their fallen comrade. "Greetings from
Valtanna, Falsayer!" Zakarzak shouted at the prone palladin. "I bring
death!" Screamed the ogre, raising his battleaxe to swing down into his
enemy. In his mind, Zakarzak replaced the image with that of Valtanna,
spread out helpless on the ground.
A flying object whirled into the ogre's self-imposed vision of reality.
The weapon somehow impacted twice in his forehead, nearly stealing
conscioussness from him. A large roar quickly followed that battered his
ears as he felt a force rip through his abdomen and exit his back. Then as
his axe neared the target, a silvery flash caught his eye as a blade
entered his stomach from below. His sight instantly cleared to see
Falsayer's holysword impaling him at which point Zakarzak blacked out. He
died within moments of hitting the ground.
Dexler walked around the giant corpse to retrieve his warhammer which
had landed behind the ogre after landing a blow to the monster's head. Ben
placed his blaster back into his holster which accomadated it quite well,
and Falsayer got up, shaken and worried about what he had heard and by what
he'd been hit with. The horses trailed behind them, having for some reason
refused to be ridden into the forest. They seemed apprehensive and ready
to bolt. The rest of their travel that day was fine although Falsayer was
completely silent and nobody managed to say anything to him due to his
obviously withdrawn state.
She can't be alive, Falsayer tried to convince himself. She can't be.
Before nightfall, they reached Crownsville. After finding an inn, they
slept the soundest that they had in days which wasn't very much. Staying
at the church would have been possible due to Falsayer and Ador's
connections, but Ador was the only one who wanted to stay there. Ador, in
fact, did travel there, telling his companions that he would return in the
Dexler sat on his bed, worrying. He would have preferred to stay at
the church, but the sooner he was off the streets the safer he was in his
opinion. How long before they find me, he thought. Tommorow we'll be out
in the streets. If I cover my face, I might be alright, but if I'm found
out, they'll converge on me for sure. I'll not let the Guild take me
alive, he decided. However, eventually even Dexler managed to sleep even
though it was but a few hours.
In the morning, the group made their way to the Crownsville Cathedral.
Their appearance was slightly different than it had been in the last
several days in that Falsayer had decided to go without the heavy plate
armor and that Dexler's face was hidden by a dark cowl. Upon arriving at
the cathedral, they were let in by the clerics and quickly found an
audience with the high priest.
"It goes badly," the high priest told them, taking a seat in his
chambers as he talked to the adventurers. "Troops of the kingdom have the
castle surrounded, but the witch has opened a gate to another world. She
and her wizard began sending out demons last week, and our men are very
weak. I'm sure that your presence would help them out. They need everyone
they can get."
"The names of the witch and wizard," Falsayer said darkly. The high
priest turned to look at him, and Falsayer added, "What are their names?"
"The witch claims to be Valtanna. I don't know her wizard's name. I
do know that nothing has been heard of Zakarzak in a long time. We're
beginning to think he was but a story to mislead as to their magical
strength or that he was killed and replaced by this Valtanna."
"It cannot be," Falsayer said to nobody in particular although everyone
heard his words. "I killed her with my own blade. This witch must be
"I hope you're right," Warath said.
"What is this?" The high priest asked. "What do you know of her?"
Maina answered. "A witch by the same name destroyed the town we
escorted a church convoy to. The demon she was in league with almost got
us. We killed them all. Yet, now another witch by the same name has
reappeared and has already sent an assassin at us who told us that Valtanna
wants some of us dead very much."
"It sounds to me as if there's more to this than just saving the
kingdom," the high priest said. "It sounds as if it may be personal."
"I pray it's not," Falsayer replied.
"Your group is just what our front needs," declared the high priest.
"They need a mage among them. One who is more skilled than they." His eyes
rested on Warath. "I heard of you while you were still in the King's
employ." His eyes gravitated to Ador. "And, I sense that you truly have the
gift. I want you to take something with you to the castle and use it to
stop this madness. Follow me to the altar, and I shall show you this relic
that was forged in the glory of the Gods of Light. It can aid you."
The high priest had risen and was moving to the door. Everyone else
followed. They exited the private chambers and were soon in the sanctuary
that was filled with light filtered by the stain glass windows. One item
on the altar stood out more so than the others. It was over two feet in
height and was made of metal that shimmered with golden radiance. Covered
with detailed pictures and runes, it also sported several protrusion. Ben
thought it also looked like a cross.
"This is the relic I give to you," the high priest said, resting his
hand on top of the golden symbol. "With it..." The blast shattered the
stain glass window and burned a ravine of melted flesh along the high
priest's neck and face. Screaming, he fell back. A shadowy form followed
the black blast and landed on the altar, its hands grasping the relic. The
party readied their weapons and prepared to retaliated as the figure
backflipped into the frame of the broken window.
Draped in his dark Vatari armor, Astarte stared at the group. "With
this relic, I shall ensure you won't win in your quest. The Gods of Light
will weep when they see the dark potential of their creation. You who care
know where to find me for you have already trespassed there once." Ben
fired his blaster, but the protection spell Karis had erected before him
managed to hold it off. "Goodbye," Karis said, leaping away and flying home
as Warath's spell broke through his barrier and scorched the window frame
where the target had been.
"Young acolyte," the high priest rasped. Ador came to kneel beside
"Yes," Ador answered, leaning close to hear him.
"Your name is Ador isn't it?" Ador nodded. "You musn't let that monster
have the relic. It must be recovered."
Ador nodded again. "If I am the one chosen to recover it, then I'll
bring it back."
"You have the strongest gift I've sensed in a long time. You are truly
the choice for I sense that was a powerful foe. Don't go alone." The high
priest choughed harshly, bringing up blood. He then closed his eyes and
"No! The healing magic should save you!" Ador's hands stretched over
the still form of the high priest and glowed. He felt his power blocked by
another that was dark and sinister. Acolytes rushed into the room, having
heard the commotion and quickly lifted up the high priest and took him to
the healing chamber. Ador watched them as they left the sanctuary.
"Well," Ador said turning to his friends. "It would seem that fate
shall take me away from you. But don't worry, I will find another acolyte
with the gift of healing to travel with you. The path you take appears to
be full of danger."
"You saved my arm," Dexler told Ador, stepping torwards him. "I feel I
should at least give you a hand if you truly intend on tracking that
abomination down. I ask you permission to accompany you."
"But these people need you," Ador said. "I can assemble a group from
those acolytes here."
"Dexler," Warath said. "If you feel you need to go, then go. If
Astarte will truly use the relic against us, then finding and stopping him
will help us."
Dexler turned towards the mage. "Thank you. I shall say hello to
Astarte for you." He then looked at Ador. "Can you accept my company now?"
"Yes, and thank you. I feel much safer knowing that another who has
seen this monster work will be with me. Now, let's go see who else will
join us." Ador walked from the altar to find the cathedral acolytes and to
discover how the high priest had fared.
"Don't take this the wrong way," Dexler told Ador as they walked
through the church. "But I feel you're safer with me along as well. It'll
take at least two of our magnitude to destroy it. I doubt the acolytes of
this church have the experience to equal ours. I have a feeling our
friends can handle that witch themselves. One has already defeated her
once." Dexler stopped and turned, looking back at his comrades for a moment
and thinking of what he'd said. "I wish you all that the gods can grant,"
he whispered to them from a distance where no ear could hear, save perhaps
the greater powers themselves.
Ben tossed and turned in his bed within the Crownsville Cathedral. As
his dreams twisted and turned dark, his face twitched, and beads of sweat
appeared on his brow. "Ben," a voice in his head called. Ben's hands
clawed the sheets. "You are another from my world. I am not alone," the
voice said. A vision of a pitiful human being appeared in Ben's mind, but
the vision was frightening beyond belief despite it. "I'll see you at the
witch's portal, the ticket to your home." The voice's tone suddenly
lowered. "Kill me if you can, or Thilirden will devour all it can eat."
The image in Ben's mind distorted and formed into the visage of a hideous
reptillian monster. "And my appetite is great!" With that the demon opened
its jaws and dropped them over Ben who awoke with a start in his sweat-
A white-robed acolyte stood at the steps to the cathedral when the four
travellers bent for the the King's castle were preparing to leave them down
them and begin their trip. "Good morning," the acolyte said. "My name is
Luxor. Ador who has left to bring the defiler to justice asked me to take
his place. I beg your leave to travel with you. As you see, I am not
totally unprepared." With that the acolyte opened his robe to reveal the
chainmail underneath and a weapon hilt protruding from the white folds at
Falsayer turned around and spoke. "I do not ask that any of my friends
follow me. I plan to enter the castle and bring down..." Falsayer's words
caught in his throat as he tried to think of a way to mention his wife
without the accompanying mental anguish.
"What he's trying to say is that we plan on going into the castle and
face the opposition alone if need be," Warath finished for him.
Falsayer recomposed himself. "I welcome your company if you wish to
Luxor smiled. "No problem. A noble cause is a good enough cause."
The group nodded in acknowledgement and continued down the steps into
the city streets.
The journey to the castle filled the travellers with anticipation and
dread. Their anxiety was high for they would reach the royal army
surrounding the castle by sundown. Falsayer, Warath, Maina, and Ben were
all that remained. They understood Ador's religious obligation as well as
the debt Dexler felt he owed the cleric, but they wished they were there
As the day darkened, the minion demon who had once been a human named
Ned was still behind Falsayer's group. Thilirden's black talons slashed
the ground he ran on, but he ran without worry that he wouldn't see the
other from his world at the portal home. The humans would have to stop and
rest the night at the siege line around the castle. Thilirden would not.
Forest animals fled as the invisible demon more flew than ran through the
wilderness towards the gateway home.
Falsayer's rank as a palladin of the Church allowed their group to move
freely among the royal army that surrounded the castle. Their environment
was a dark one with the moon overhead and the sound of crickets and owls in
the air. The palladin's group objective was the main tent where the
tacticians plotted the next day's strategy. As they advanced upon the
tent, they saw that the amount of guards around it was the heaviest they'd
seen yet. These soldiers weren't in top condition either. The more of
them seen together, greater was the chance of seeing more horrible injury.
The tent was full of the chatter of desperate men. Everyday they had
been there, surrounding the King's castle, and everyday their blood had
beens spilled by the demons the witch had found fit to conjure. Now the
castle was dark, and the land on all its sides was littered with the bodies
both human and demonic that hadn't been reanimated and since against the
Now, the stategists turned their heads to see who had disrupted their
meeting. A small bunch of non-soldiers, bearing marks of the Church. "What
business do you come here on?" Asked one of the strategists, a tired old
man who had been kept up each night by the screams that some demon assassin
would gain in its stealthy slaughter among the Royal Guard's encampment.
"I have come to free the castle from those who wrongfully hold it, or I
shall die trying," Falsayer said, stepping forward away from the group and
into the lamplight for emphasis. "My companions have chosen to follow me so
"We won't stop you," one of the other leaders of the Royal Guard spoke
up. "But I wouldn't recommend it. We attack tommorow to try and gain
entrance. A few of our men always get through, but they haven't been
successful yet. You may want to go in at that time. May I ask your name,
"I'm Falsayer, Palladin of Talboria. I think we'll accept your offer."
He looked to Warath who nodded his head.
"Feel free to camp among our men," another one of the leaders said.
"We'll do so. Thank you for your hospitality."
"You're welcome," the leader responded to their backs as the newcomers
left with haste.
In the blood-splattered throne room of the King's castle, Valtanna
paced past the seven Royal Guards who barely lived. Their twitching bodies
were impaled upon spikes that rose from the stone floor and held the men's
bodies mostly upright. The dark magic that the geomancer Mikalea had used
to raise the metal the spikes from the stone floor had managed to not
pierce the soldiers in any place that would be fatal too soon. They would
die from blood loss in a few hours nonetheless.
Valtanna stopped pacing before the dying men, but her smile didn't
fade. She was now dressed in the even finer black velvet of a male noble.
The garb's seams were done in silver which gave her appearance at least
some color. Without it, her clothes along with her long nightblack hair
would give her the appearance of nothing but a shadow. To the right of the
empty stone throne, a large mirror of obvious noble heritage had been
transformed into Valtanna's gate to the other planes. The geomancer stood
by throne and watched with apprehension.
"I have need of but one you," Valtanna told the impaled soldiers. She
lifted her right hand and snapped her fingers. Gouts of fire erupted from
six of the soldiers, leaving one among them to watch and feel heat as his
comrades died burning and screaming. After a few moments, their cries
ceased and the flames died down unnaturally. Valtanna watched cooly.
"It's time to get to the heart of the matter," she told the remaining
prisoner, outstretching an open hand to him.
He looked down at his stained uniform in horror, watching his chest
pulsating. With a ripping sound, blood began spraying from his chest in
several streams. As the sound of tearing flesh became louder, a lump
emerged from his chest and eventually tore away the loose buttons on his
shirt. Extending on a limb of mangled flesh and organs, the beating heart
made its way to Valtanna's right hand which lay open but a few feet away.
By way of the dark magic, the man was able to watch as his viscera left his
body to hand his heart to his murderer. His face contorted in terror,
finding himself unable to make a sound.
Valtanna enclosed her fingers around the heart and tore it free from
the bloody limb that had given it to her. With blood still squirting, the
unnatural limb fell limp, but the captive still didn't die. Valtanna
slowly walked to the portal, speaking the words of a spell that caused all
seven soldiers behind her to combust again. Their screams split the
silence yet again as the six who were dead found themselves brought back to
life only to suffer. Valtanna made her way to the portal and stopped but a
foot away from its rippling surface. The heart she held began to glow a
sickly faint green. She raised an arm and hurled the glowing organ to the
ground before the gateway to the planes.
Now, the heart was afire with a green inferno that reached even above
Valtanna's head, causing her to take a step back. She kept speaking the
foreign words of magic in combinations no sane conjurer would put together.
What she wanted to bring into her world was a thing from a breed that was
known to exterminate worlds. Only the last few words she spoke made any
sense to one not versed in the language of the ancient runes of power.
"With this heart of a nemesis mine, I summon thee Madlar from the Chaos
pits of Nemesis." Her words cut clearly through the screaming of the
burning. After that, a beam of green light shot forth from the glowing
aorta stump into the dark mists beyond the portal.
Valtanna turned and walked away. She turned to look at Mikalea who was
anxcious to speak. Seeing that she was finished, he asked, "How long will
it be until it comes?"
"It should be here soon." She seated herself in the throne. "If the
Song of the Dying and the beacon work, the time should only be hours. We
have much more time than that before the royal soldiers try and attack
again if they keep to their practice of only attacking during the daylight.
Tommorow, they should all die before the sun sets, by the powers of a
Madlar small enough to fit through my Gate."
She smiled to herself, and then felt something that made her smile
dissappear. On the fringes of her mind, she sensed a familiar presence.
She'd lived with them him for years, and there was no mistaking his
signature. He's here! She thought to herself. Somehow her palladin
husband had managed to survive. Damn that ogre! She thought. Her anger
began building. Hmmm... I shall have her a surprise for him tommorow!
The geomancer watched her expression go from confidence to fury. She
was now ignoring him. He took a few steps backwards and considered
leaving. Mikalea hoped to whatever gods would still listen to him that it
wasn't he she was upset with.
The moon fell, and the sun rose, splitting the fog and clouds with its
rays. A feeling of dread hung over the morning as an army assembled. Some
of those assembled for the frontal attack were volunteers while the rest
had been picked. The way to the main entrance looked clear. The moat had
been filled in and the drawbridge had been smashed, leaving the castle wide
open, but appearances can be decieving.
Falsayer was dressed in full plate armor and behind him stood Warath,
Maina, Ben, and Luxor. The army had been generous enough to provide Ben
with new chainmail which looked to be in far better shape than what had
been currently protecting him. The general attitude of the soldiers seemed
to be one of admiration or perhaps pity for these newcomers from the Church
who would attempt to gain entry to the castle, the sight of which the Royal
Guard had come to relate with the drawn blood of their companions.
Warath looked at his friends before speaking. "I know that most of you
have heard this speech before, but I feel the situation we walk into merits
saying it again. We go up against one who controls magic. In this
conflict we'll need strength of mind as well as strength of body. Magic
works by strong will manipulating the power of the spirit. Keep your
mental guard up no matter what. Distractions can be deadly. Remain
focused on your goal. That's all I wanted to say."
Ben nodded with a grim expression. This was all definitely knew to
him. He had reason to be afraid and was. But, Ben was also had his mind
set on going home, and he was willing to fight to do so. He gripped his
"gun" for reassurance.
Today, the Royal Guard had an air of determination over it that was
approaching desperation. Even the High Priest of Cult of Ukyou was
present, walking among the soldiers and giving them a holy blessing. The
Guard knew there was little chance of their being attacked first. Captain
Lieuragard walked to a wooden platform that had been erected so that the
leaders could examine the battle. Intaking plenting of air, he bellowed,
"Men there are few of us left. We can barely surround our castle turned
fortress of evil. We must gain entry and slay those who disrupt our
kingdom. May the Powers smile on us. CHARGE!"
Demons lifted themselves from the shadows and rose from the ground.
They erupted from the corpses of those slain the previous day, and other
bodies both demon and human brought themselves to their feet to fight for
their mistress, Valtanna. Their serrated claws cut through the necks of
the Royal Guard's soldiers, and the risen soldier corpses drove their
blades through the chests of their former comrades. Blades flew,
reflecting the sunlight as their cuts showered blood into the air. The
battle was a writhing mass of death, and the demons cut through it like
wolves among sheep. However, the wolves found today that the sheep were
armed, and their arms were made deadly by desperation.
Falsayer's group battled through. When the monsters first approached,
the acolyte, Luxor, pulled his blessed axe from his robes and got a firm
grip on the weapon which was steel but with a layer of silver done in
entrancing designs upon the wicked head.
Within the castle, Mikalea bravely berrated his mistress. "Where is the
Madlar? It's not coming is it? Our defenses are being beaten back this
time. The Royal Guard is unnaturally strong today. They must believe
there is no tommorow for them!"
Valtann calmly listened to his comments in her royal throne. "I've
changed my plans. Don't fear... geomancer."
Warath's protection spell repulsed the first wave of beasts as they
attacked the desperately charging attackers, and Maina's blade sliced into
a beast from the second wave as Luxor drove his axe down, yelling, "Be
Blessed!" Ben's handgun blasted three holes in different monstrous targets,
dropping them instantly.
On an upward swing, Falsayer bisecting the face of an undead soldier,
proclaiming, "Get back ye Unholy creatures!" His sword glinted in the
sunlight and then increased in magnitude to an even brighter light. The
forward staggering undead soldier was blasted to ash by the light as were
several other demons near the palladin's companions. Luxor was held in awe
of the holysword's might as the group continued its forward advance,
chopping down the demons like woodsmen in a bountiful forest. Falsayer's
repelled most of the oncoming creatures though, creating a pathway for the
rest of the Royal Guard.
Amongst all this fighting, nobody, not even the demons, noticed the
invisible form that leapt and slashed its way through the fray towards the
open castle gate. Thilirden landed with a crash within the stone castle,
just beyond the gate. His weight nearly caused his taloned feet to press
craters into the floor as a landed at the end of a long leap. His claws
coated with blood both human and demonic, Thilirden made his way slowly
through the castle complex.
Led by the palladin, Falsayer, the group made their way inside with
minor injuries. All but Falsayer had sustained a few shallow slices, but
nothing that would prove detrimental too quickly. A score of Royal Guard
also made it through before the demon ranks (that had been pushed back by
the holy might of the palladin's blade) reformed. Valtanna smiled at this
knowledge. "Try and kill them, Mikalea," she said, seated comfortably in
her throne. Her eyes gazed at the intruders through the scrying crystal
Mikalea had formed with his geomancy. She mentally commanded the less than
half a dozen demon guards within to let them pass. The witch could always
summon more when necessary.
Mikalea closed his eyes, concentrating. His mind went out to the
castle's structure so that he felt every brick, every little piece mortar,
and each piece of stone as his own. The castle's wall truly had eyes now,
a mind's eye belonging to Mikalea Tochi. He willed the fortress halls to
collapse upon them, but his spell fizzled before it took effect. He tried
again to the same outcome. Pumping his mental might into it fully, Mikalea
tried to turn the stone the invaders walked upon into molten lava. It
Warath concentrated on his spell. He felt each attack as it struck his
spell barrier that he had erected upon entering the castle. The field
would stop his own spells as well if he attempted to cast them outside the
barrier, but he wasn't worried about attacking when no foes were in sight.
"They're almost here, Valtanna," Mikalea said, panicked. "They've put
up some kind of magic negater about them. I can't seem to hit them with
any of my spells. Where are your guards?" Valtanna smiled. Mikalea wasn't
amused. "Here they come!"
"Come my warriors!" Valtanna shouted mentally to her demons within her
fortress. And then outloud, she commanded, "Madlar, arise to serve the
forces of chaos!"
The red vortex within the gateway parted for a red-skinned foot that
landed heavily upon the stone floor in the castle's throne room. The
trapped soldiers who sung their song of endless dying collapsed into burnt
heaps. White wisps were drawn to the emerging beast who stepped from the
whirling crimson of the gate, a virtual tornado of the souls. The
destruction incarnate pulled itself free from the portal. Its four arms
clicked their talons, razors, claws, horns, and various black instruments
which probed from its blood-hued skin that was hard as steel. The Madlar's
hairless head was ten feet from the floor, and it used its pointed ears and
eagle eyes to pinpoint its enemy. The eyes narrowed as it found the
Thilirden saw his chance. Now the storm within the gate had passed,
and his powers would now have dominion over where it went. Greater was his
might than this human wench. She wouldn't stand in his way, and neither
would this monster. Something about it told him to be wary though. He
charged for the gate despite the feeling of dread.
Suddenly his invisiblity collapsed, and the Madlar's eyes narrowed
straight at him. The weakness of using the invisibility finally fell on
him as the power ceased its function. Thilirden's muscles sagged, and his
gait faltered. The Madlar's razor arm whipped up at his face, nearly
removing it. All he could do was try to avoid the blow. He didn't
Valtanna's eyes widened with surprise. "A minion!" She exclaimed,
rising from her throne and stepping forward. "I know you, Rilith. How dare
you attack my forces. Madlar, tear him apart!"
Thilirden looked up at the ceiling and tried to rise. A one and a half
foot slice had been taken from his right shoulder, and the black blood
flowed out to pool on the stones. Staggering to his feet, he declared in a
voice that sounded as if it echoed in hell before being heard, "I'm no
minion. I'll not be your Rilith. Call me Thilirden!"
"So, you've learned the demon tounge? Your name is nothing but Ned the
Minion backwards you stupid subcreature! Now tell me..." Valtanna began in
hopes of distracting the demon as she watched the Madlar impale him to the
floor through the chest with all four weapon arms. "Now scatter him to the
four winds, destroyer!"
Thilirden's legs kicked up at the beast as it ripped its four limbs
from his chest, causing him to scream a wail that could've split Hades
itself. His black blood now gushed from five wounds, but he'd managed to
kick the Madlar back. It seemed, however, to have let him succeed in doing
so. The Madlar brought its four arms up to rip through his foe again when
it twisted its head to see more prey.
Bursting open, the door to the throne room fell from its hinges and
crashed to the floor. Sword pointed forwards, Falsayer advanced into the
room. "Valtanna I have come! Stop this madness now!" Soldiers of the
Royal Guard dashed out to attack the Madlar who began stalking towards
their group. Almost grinning, Thilirden twitched and convulsed as he tried
"You shouldn't be so foolish my dear, husband. I haven't any need for
you now unless you intend on forsaking all you hold good and joining my
side!" Her arm outstretched towards him, her palm up and fingers spread
"You should abandon this and return to the Gods of Light!" Falsayer
screamed as Maina dashed to help the soldiers battle the Madlar. Blood
flew in wet crimson sprays as the demon of destruction tore apart the men
with single swipes. Warath ran after his beloved, and Mikalea caused the
stone floor to form spikes which shot up from below to impale him. Seeing
the cause of Warath's dodges, Luxor charged forward and swung his battleaxe
at the geomancer. Spinning in a horizontal blurry disc, it struck Mikalea
in the side almost chopping him in half. His screams brough forth an angry
twitch in the witch's expression.
Valtanna turned to the Madlar and commanded it. "Madlar, slay this
palladin!" Her open hand which was readied with a spellblast closed into a
fist with a finger outstretched to point out the red demon's target.
Luxor almost cried out as a stone spike entered from behind his head
and exited his forehead. His body went limp, supported only by the
instrument of his murder. Mikalea grasped his side, staggering to stand
beside his mistress. Drops of blood formed a trail behind him as he
dragged his feet onward.
The dismembered parts of human anatomy laid strewn about the stone
floor as the Madlar charged towards Falsayer who readied his stance. Maina
and but a few others had survived combat with the monster. Of the
survivors, only Maina was fit for more. She bled from many wounds but
would be able to survive them. Seeing the geomancer in his weakened state,
she moved to attack.
As Ben stopped before the prone form of Thilirden, he leveled his
blaster at the thing's head and fired. The moment his mental finger closed
upon the one-piece weapon's trigger, the demon lurched upwards. The blast
caught it in the soldier, forcing one foot to take a step backwards.
"Soooo, you came did you?" Thilirden drawled. The next blast Ben fired
found itself landing in the palm of Thilirden's outstretched hand. The
blast caused damage but couldn't blow through. Ben threw himself to the
side as the demon sent out a kick wtih a taloned foot the size of Ben's
body. Falsayer noticed the demon minion in his peripheal vision and
wondered why it seemed that for some reason, his foes refused to die.
Seeing the move Maina was making, Warath decided to keep Mikalea
occupied. Repeating the words of a spell, Warath sent out a fiery blast
that forced the geomancer to go on a major defensive to avoid. Mikalea
braced himself and pushed outward with the strength of his spirit to divert
the incinerating force around him. The singing sparks burst around his
frame, but it the attack failed to do harm.
Tochi ground his teeth together to withstand the pain of his injuries
and then snarled a spell back at Warath. Expecting the attack, he threw
down a sheet of force over the stones in the area which he stood. The
spikes Mikalea tried to send up broke against the floor of force above
them. Warath grinned and prepared to send another spell when the heat from
above told him it time to promptly dodge. Part of the ceiling above him
had melted into lava and dripped down to splatter where he had stood.
Warath drew his saber of coldfire and resumed his ready stance, considering
his next spell. More lava dripped down, but the blade's magic against fire
Falsayer knew the beast approaching him would kill him if he got within
reach of its murderous arms. The Madlar swung out with the four natural
weapons whereupon Falsayer stepped to the side and brought his shining
blade down upon its left shoulder's. The creature screamed as its drew
back a bloodied stump that was once one of its arms. Falsayer retreated
back as the beast stepped over its severed member to get at him.
"Shine for me now!" Falsayer cried as he aimed his blade at the Madlar.
A blinding flash engulfed the monster's head, and the palladin advanced.
He thrust his blade in, prepared to leap out the next moment, but the
monster was unaffected by the flash. With a sweep of its claws and blades,
it ripped through its foe, sending him backwards with one of its claws
trailing a red streak through the air.
Its claw had sliced through all it touched, tearing away a sheet of his
platemail and removing a chunk of flesh from his chest. Falsayer went on
the defensive, dodging the next charge and parrying arms from subsequent
attacks that got to close. In the distance of the far side of the kingly
chamber, exposions echoed off the walls.
Ben fired at the black form stalking him. Thilirden raised his claw
again to parry the blast. The force pounded on the hand which had suffered
much through the fight. It was too much. The claw blasted into fragments,
acquiring another scream form the wounded Thilirden. Ben advanced,
blasting. Weakened from using his invisibility and disfigured from his
battles, Thilirden retreated, dodging the blasts from Ben's ancient weapon.
Valtanna's hand leveled at the mage, and Mikalea struck again at him
magically. Warath almost didn't see the solid piece of stone falling down
upon him, but he did and barely managed to step out from under its landing
spot. The blast from Valtanna, though, caught him unawares. It struck him
hard, but he managed to resist the brunt of the attack with his strong
will. Valtanna fired again, forcing him back. Warath's clothing was now
singed and smoking, but the damage to his body was minimal. She blasted
again, and his spell stopped the assault, sending it back out and forcing
him back yet another step.
Mikalea saw the magical beam coming his way and rather than try and
resist it, he raised a wall before him from the stone floor. The beam
broke the wall into bits but diffused in the effort. Tochi on the other
hand, found himself thrown back by the attack's power. He struggled to
rise again and only got about halfway as Valtanna sent another spell at
Warath. Mikalea smiled. Warath had now been forced off the floor force
he'd laid down.
As he prepared a incantation, Warath's casting turned into a scream as
the stone spike thrust up towards him. He managed to avoid death, but the
spike had now struck up through his leg. He'd have to get the leg awfully
high to slide it off the granite spear. Looking up, Warath saw the entire
wall behind the throne project an army of rock spikes. He feared that he
suspected correctly about their attention.
The mage soon found his fears realized as he felt himself yanked off
the spike. Valtanna swung him as if she had him at the end of a long
string. Warath cast a barrier before the wall of spikes, but Valtanna
grimaced and litterally hurled down Warath's spell to the floor.
Mikalea tried rising to find himself being charged. In the split
second before the attack, he berrated himself for not paying more attention
to the surroundings. Maina's sword was on a downward arc, and the time
before it struck would be too short to get in a spell. The blade sliced
through his left arm, dropping its entire length from just above the elbow
to the floor. Tochi cried out, falling.
As Maina's flamberge cut in, Warath felt his body slam against hard
stone. He looked down when his eyes focused to see blood-slick stone
spears protruding from his body. He was dead, Warath knew. There was no
denying it this time.
Ben chased the minion to the portal, firing all the way. Thilirden's
mind commanded the gate, and it obeyed. Earth it depicted. Then the image
zoomed in to that of a city and then into building. "I'm going into your
world now!" Thilirden taunted him. The minion then jumped through and
"No, you don't!" Ben yelled after him and dived through just as he felt
something fly overhead and cry out.
Falsayer cocked his head to see what had happened, and the Madlar
ripped through his chest again. Falsayer screamed, but his anger
outweighed his pain. He fought the beast back towards Valtanna. "This will
not go unpunished, Warath!" Falsayer yelled to his friend.
The realization of Rath's situation struck into Maina at the same time
the granite spear did. She tried to evade and managed to reduce the
lethality of the inevitable impalement. It punctured through her body and
came out blood red, missing the heart but only barely. Tochi laughed and
tried to rise, stumbling and failing.
Maina's scream brought Warath fully back into conscioussness from
bleeding to death. He'd been crucified but seconds ago, and that's how
much time remained. He didn't have to worry about himself anymore, but
he'd be damned if he let them kill Maina! There was no chance in hell he'd
simply hang and die while she was in trouble! His brain began hemmoraging
as soon as he started pushing himself far past his limits.
Maina blinked in amazement as she saw Mikalea fly from her sight. The
geomancer screamed as he struck the spiked-stone wall headfirst. Falsayer
charged as the Madlar tried to advance, but soon the demon was moving away
far faster through the air. It exploded in a fire-colored starburst above
Valtanna who found herself pulled back as Warath's face bled into an
unrecognizable mask. Valtanna stopped herself with a well placed leg
against the wall, but she still was wounded. The spike had bit into her
back at least four inches.
She looked up to see the hazy vision of Falsayer rushing to her side.
In pain induced delirium, she thought blissfully that he was coming to her
aid because of his love. Her thoughts cleared as he closed in. Falsayer's
body slammed her back and drove her down the spike and onto the others.
She screamed in anger, and Falsayer felt familiar iron nails drive into
him. He leaned against her as she died. "Forgive me," he whispered.
"Darling," she whispered with her last breath.
As Mikalea's death set in, his works crumbled. The spears on the walls
fell limp, Warath's corpse fell free and hit the floor, and Valtanna
slumped down into the corner. Maina dragged her feet dazedly across the
room to the heap of Warath. "Rath, how could you?" She said before falling
across him sobbing. Her own wounds bled away unattended.
She looked up through her tear-streaked sight to see Falsayer. He
kneeled down before them. "I'll give him back to you."
"What?" Maina replied hysterically.
"There's nothing left for me in this life which I won't have for much
longer. What's left in him is free to give, and you were all so kind to
me. You were truly friends such as I haven't had in so long. Goodbye," he
said, wrapping an arm around her and leaning in close to the lifeless form
His body glowed a golden hue, and it flowed from him to the corpse.
The power of his spirit filled the body, and his soul went free. It met
one returning as it departed. The lifeforce that was pumped into Warath
regenerated his body, restoring it to the way it should have been, and
Maina's bloody wound closed over as the tremendous power washed over her as
well. Warath could now groan again, and he did.
Ben reappeared to see a dark room. A black shape loomed above him, and
he saw in his direct line of sigh what must be half-man, half-lizard sink
to blades into a hideous robed thing. Thilirden made a break for it, and
Ben fired after him. The demon wasted no time in smashing through the
window and taking out the wall as well. Thilirden fell from sight, and
people in the room scattered, running out.
The robed thing fell to the floor, its black nails clicking one final
time. Its bald head contained black teeth which gnashed together as it
silently vowed revenge before dying. Ben now stood in silence upon a
pentagram. A dead creature of some sort lay sprawled there. It wasn't
human unless they'd gained horns for forearms since he'd been gone.
He was alone now with the silvery-armored monster. The silence
could've killed him. The armored warrior looked at him for what seemed
like an eternity, and then blinked and vanished. Ben stepped over the
bodies to where a wall once had been. He looked down several stories to
the streets below. "You haven't escaped me yet. I'll find you," he swore.