Dark Mirror (TS)
At least, they assumed it was LKH. Silver was screaming too loudly from the mana coursing through his body for them to take stock of their surroundings for a long moment. Even before Silver had quieted, Selax was too busy berating Wizard for his clumsiness to notice where they were, & Wizard had all but dissolved into a puddle of tears of remorse.
"..., and besides you should have realized that he was only coming outside with us because he wasn't paying very good attention and we were the first ones to open the door! Maybe Rapierian was right about you, you're too old to be any use on these quests."
By the time Selax had paused in his rant, Silverfish had gained enough control of himself to realize that something was very wrong. "Um, guys? Thanks for the concern, but why is a tentacle dragging me into the sea?"
Apparently he was too quiet. Selax was about to renew his rant with vigour when the full impact of his situation hit Silver. "HELP!!! A Scylla's attacking me!!"
Wizard & Selax looked down from the cliffs separating the Comana's house from the sea. Selax was the quicker to engage combat, dual blades flashing in the moonlight. Wizard began his attack by making the Scylla think it was being attacked by a giant crab.
It worked, but Wizard didn't take the time to focus the illusion, so the scylla thought that Selax was the giant crab, & Silverfish thought the scylla turned into a crab. Selax had already pureed several tentacles, with Wizard holding them telekinetically, when Silver finally realized that he could be taking an active part in the fray. He released a powerful surge of electricity causing the sea monster's tentacles to convulse erratically & release him. The tentacle that had been wrapped around him remained limp, but the rest of the tentacles attacked with the power of the enraged beast. A tentacle swatted Silver & he tumbled through the air for half a furlong before he could stop himself & speed back.
Over half the tentacles were gone now, & the rest were vanishing rapidly when the scylla's head broke out of the water. With a roar it snapped at Selax who dodged lightly & slashed it across the face. Silver rushed up behind it & attempted to jab a couple of sharp spikes into the monster's brain, but it shook him free & he found himself tumbling once more across the sky. Silver didn't go so far this time, perhaps because he hit the wall with a sickening smack. He took a moment to reinforce his body, but by then the battle was over. The Scylla reared out of the water, crammed its remaining tentacles into its gaping maw, & swallowed itself.
Silver glanced at wizard, "Wha-?"
The Wizard was pale & shaking as he replied, "You don't want to know."
Selax landed back on the clifftop & started to berate Wizard for not even casting Direct Nexus properly when Silver raised his hand to interrupt, "You do realize that you're the one who cast the spell, don't you Selax?"
Wizard glared at Selax, but broke into a chortle when he saw the look on the elemental's face, "You know, Rapierian would love to see that look on your face."
"I guess so." Selax conceded.
They turned to rejoin the rest of the party.
"Would you mind re-casting Direct Nexus?" Wizard asked Selax impatiently.
"Whatever," Selax replied, uncharacteristically. There was a sort of magical glow for a moment around Selax but it soon dissipated.
Silver had squeezed his eyes shut in expectation of pain, but when he felt nothing, he cautiously opened them. "Um, we're still here."
"Bah, incompetent," Wizard muttered for another minute or so. Selax looked grumpy and was about to say something. "Nevermind, I'll do it myself." Wizard continued to mumble, "I've never been very good at it, but I ought to be able to it better than that, whatever you call it. Detour Nexus?" Wizard cast the spell; again, nothing happened.
"Ha! Who's incompetent now, old man?"
"Well, I don't understand it, something should be happening." Wizard tried again to no avail. "It's just not working!"
"Could it be broken?" Silver asked.
Wizard scoffed, "Broken? How do you break a spell?"
"Well, maybe he's right. If you know so much about everything. . . you should be able to figure out that certain spells might not work given Alaric's condition. Without him, Cythera falls into chaos!" Selax seemed unusually melodramatic.
Wizard seemed unusually angry and turned away. "Hmph. As long as we're still in Kosha, we should find the others and tell them that we'll have to walk to Land King Hall if we're going to get there."
Shortly after, the Roasted Haunch's door flew open. Selax and the others walked in. Selax and Wizard looked angry, avoiding each other apparently, and Silver trotted along the floor rubbing his back. It looked as though he'd been in a battle of some sort.
Shanadar hopped up to greet them, "What's the word? How is Alaric?"
"What are you talking about? We just left a few seconds ago, never got there." Wizard replied rudely. He flung his hands into the air in exasperation. "For some reason, Direct Nexus isn't working!"
"Broken." Silver added.
"Forget it!" Selax said. "It doesn't matter anyways."
Shanadar looked stunned. Selax and Wizard started to argue, and Silver began humming, oblivious to everything around him. Katerei watched the argument in silence. Yomu looked at them with a worried expression and asked, "Are you guys all right?"
"What? I feel fine. Why shouldn't I?" Wizard felt suddenly more irritated than he did a second ago. He leaned in towards Yomu with a glint of paranoia in his eye, "Did you poison me or something? It's a conspiracy isn't it? You're all out to get me! That would explain your stupidity," he pointed at Selax. "Trying to get me eaten by a scylla."
"I wouldn't waste the effort," Selax replied coldly.
"Okay, well, let's go visit Itanos. Maybe he can help us figure out what's going on," Katerei said, more to Shanadar and Yomu than anyone else, but she smiled at the others and said the words as innocently as she could.
"Oh-hoh, you'd love that! You want Itanos to kill me. Well it won't work!" Wizard started to shout. "I'll kill you all if I have to; it would be self-defense!"
They didn't wait for him to stop talking, Shanadar and Yomu just grabbed Wizard and started to pull him out of the tavern. As Selax followed behind, Wizard thought he heard the elemental mutter something about hoping that maybe they would put the old man down. A shoo from Katerei was enough to get Silver skipping along with the others.
Wizard opened his eyes. He felt as if he'd just woken from a bad dream. "What happened?" he asked in his usual gentle tone.
"Your Direct Nexus must have really gone haywire." Itanos explained, "Not only did you not reach Land King Hall, it teleported you two days into the future. I've never heard of that happening before; I think it is linked to Alaric's being ill. Anyways, you also seemed very. . . excitable. When you showed up here, you were going on and on about conspiracies and so on. There was obviously some sort of mental feedback from the spell that caused you and the other two to act unusual, to say the least."
Wizard sat up. He had a slight headache, but overall, he felt pretty good. "What did you do to fix it?"
Itanos shrugged, "I cast a few healing spells on each of you. It was enough for the other two, but you were still acting strange. I suspect that your telepathy resulted in your absorbing most of the harmful energy. I put you to sleep and cast Rally to help clear your mind."
"I cannot thank you enough." Wizard smiled and walked towards the door. Silver and Selax were already outside. Silver was enjoying the fresh air, while Selax seemed back to his usual self. "I'm sorry for calling you incompetent, I didn't mean that." Wizard said to Selax.
Selax held up a hand, "Apologies are not necessary. None of us were behaving normally, and we each said things that we didn't mean."
"Well, I'm glad that's over with," Wizard sighed and his expression became more grim. "I was waiting to mention this until we had examined Alaric, but I don't think we're going to have the opportunity to do that anytime soon."
"What is it?"
"Well, Alaric collapsed a couple of days ago, right? Er, add on two more days."
"Yes, what of it?"
"That was about the time that I was recovering from the hit on the head I received a few nights ago. Do you remember my telling you that I had a nightmare while I was unconscious?"
"Well, given the proximity of that event to Alaric's collapsing, I think they were caused by the same thing. There must have been some extremely strong telepathic energy that I detected resulting in my nightmare. Alaric would have sensed much more of it, or it was possibly an attack targeting him specifically. Either way, we're dealing with very powerful forces here, and without the ability to leave here easily, I'm afraid we're as good as stuck here while we try to figure out what happened."
Selax said nothing. Wizard turned to Itanos. "I guess going to Land King Hall right now is out of the question. What exactly happened after we left?"
The judge rubbed his temples wearily as he tried to remember. With everything he had to contend with lately, two days seemed so long ago. "Well, the rest of your party is long gone. Rapierian escaped just after you tried to leave for Land King Hall, and they set out immediately to track him down. They-"
"Wait, wait," Wizard interrupted, too surprised to wait for Itanos to finish. The news that Rapierian had escaped wasn't good, but at least was less baffling. "How can they be gone? We just saw them at the Roasted Haunch tavern. I thought they came here with Selax, Silverfish, and I."
Silverfish looked up at Wizard with some concern. "Are you sure you're feeling okay?"
"We came straight here to see Itanos after we got out of the Direct Nexus malfunction," Selax said. "We didn't stop at the tavern, nor did we see the other three. Perhaps the mental feedback from Direct Nexus malfunctioning affected you more than we realized."
Wizard furrowed his brow in confusion. His mind still felt hazy, and he spoke slowly. "Did I... dream all that? Or even hallucinate it?"
"Well, I certainly haven't seen them in the two days that you were gone," Itanos said. "As I was saying, Rapierian escaped. The lock on his cell was broken, and the guard was dead, but we don't know how he got out. Your friends haven't returned yet, so I have no idea if they found him or not. When you disappeared, everything seemed normal, so we assumed you had arrived at Land King Hall successfully and they didn't wait for you. Although now that I think about it, some other spells have been working oddly, or not at all..."
"Did anything else noteworthy happen while we were gone?" Selax asked. Wizard was still silent, clearly unnerved.
"Hmm... let me think... there was news of another animal slaying nearby. It was reported to have been killed about three days ago."
"Three days ago?" questioned Selax. "Taking into account the two days that we missed, that would mean that it was killed during the time that Rapierian was in custody."
Itanos frowned. "I realized that too. Either Rapierian had an accomplice in this, or he really is innocent."
Wizard finally spoke up. "I think we all had our concerns that we were holding the wrong person. Unfortunately, that means that we're back to square one. Worse even. We still don't know who's responsible for these killings. Alaric has collapsed, and with certain spells being unreliable or completely useless, we have no way to get there without abandoning our investigation down here. Furthermore, there is the matter of determining how exactly Rapierian escaped and bringing him to justice for killing the guard, if he did."
Everyone looked at each other, but no one volunteered anything. "Well," Wizard broke the silence, "I don't know about everyone else, but I'm going to go have a bite to eat. I haven't eaten in two days, you know!" He laughed.
Knowing fully their current situation, the three turned somewhat resignedly toward the tavern. At least they were back to normal now.
This post has been edited by The Wizard : 08 July 2009 - 12:08 AM
As soon as they heard the noise from House Comana, Shanadar and Yomu knew something was amiss. They looked at each other and Yomu said immediately, "Let's go." They bid a hasty goodbye to Itanos, who watched worriedly from his doorstep as the two men departed.
About halfway there a small wolf fell into stride next to them. Yomu looked surprised, but Shanadar recognized the unusual fur colour and thought he recalled hearing about a wolf running around Pnyx on the night of Malis' and Danae's wedding. When the wolf pointedly looked at him as if to hurry up, Shanadar was able to confirm to Yomu, "It's Katerei."
The wolf emitted a low whine as they approached the south side of House Comana and saw the last of the search parties leaving. Katerei was still panicked, her ears pressed back against her skull and tail between her legs, but she had heard snatches of dialogue on the wind as she entered Kosha - enough to piece together that Rapierian had escaped. She just had to wait for Shanadar and Yomu to find out, and she was in no state to transform back and explain it herself.
The guard that had been left stationed outside House Comana recognized the two men as soon as they got close enough to see their faces. He quickly told them what had happened, including that Rapierian had apparently murdered a guard on the way out. "Didn't you arrive here with some other people?" the guard asked. "We need everyone available to track him down."
"They've gone to Land King Hall via Direct Nexus," Shanadar said. "It's just us now. Where should we start searching?"
But a sharp bark from Katerei got their attention. She had been turning her head this way and that while the humans talked, listening and sniffing the air. That... unnatural... scent from the forest was still trapped in her nose, confusing her normally refined sense of smell, but Rapierian's scent was so fresh in the air that she was able to pick it up. She tilted her head north-east to indicate that the necromancer had fled along the shoreline. Shanadar and Yomu understood, and the three took off at a jog to begin following Rapierian's path from the side entrance of House Comana toward the ocean.
Unfortunately, there were several things not in their favour. Rapierian had the benefit of a considerable head start, the onset of night made it harder for the humans to see, and not long after they passed the northern boundary of Kosha the forest began. "You could lose a person forever in here at night," Yomu said darkly as they began traipsing through the trees. As a wolf Katerei was far better equipped for searching through the woods, but she was already tired after her terrified dash from west of Kosha. Although she could surely muster up the energy to outrun Rapierian if needed, she was not at all fond of the idea of leaving behind her companions to pursue a murderous necromancer alone. If a trained and armed guard couldn't survive him, what chance did her teeth or her water spells have?
Ten minutes turned into half an hour, which turned into an hour, and another one. Shanadar and Yomu followed closely behind Katerei as she tracked Rapierian's scent, all three pressing as hard as they could to maintain speed, but with the passing of every tree or rock their chances seemed to grow infinitesimally smaller. The previous day had already contained its share of travelling and they were worn out, whereas Rapierian had spent much of the day either unconscious or in a prison cell.
Finally Shanadar held up a hand and said, "Enough. We have to rest. As long as Katerei can still find Rapierian's trail, the risk of losing him completely is minimal. He probably doesn't know he's being followed this closely, so maybe we'll get lucky and he'll slow his pace."
The other two knew how determined Shanadar was to have Rapierian behind bars, so they could tell that this wasn't a lack of motivation on his part. The Enforcer was right; they did need a brief rest. They stopped in a small open space that had enough room for the men to walk around slowly to cool their muscles before sitting down on a fallen log. Katerei continued to pace slowly back and forth, her teeth glinting slightly in the moonlight as she panted.
Yomu broke the silence after a few minutes. "How do you think he got out?"
Shanadar glanced over at the other man. "I don't know," he said finally. "Maybe the magic-suppressing runes have faded in strength since they were put there. Maybe he tricked the guard, or had some tool we somehow missed, although I'm sure I searched him thoroughly. Could be anything." They lapsed back into silence, save for the sound of Katerei's paws padding gently on the dirt, the occasional swish of her tail and the usual night-time sounds of the forest.
They were almost ready to leave again when Katerei stopped pacing and pricked up her ears. After a second she slipped behind some dense bushes, out of sight of the men, and stepped back out a moment later on two legs. "There's a group of people approaching," she said, her words clipped. She didn't want to be out of her wolf form, but this was the easiest way to communicate. "It sounds like a search party of Kosha guards."
There was no point in asking if they had Rapierian with them; Katerei's expression indicated the negative. Shanadar called out to the group to let them know they were there, and a faint reply could be heard in the distance. The three travellers began walking in the direction of the voice.
Shanadar nodded in greeting as the other group came into view. "Good evening. I assume you're one of the search parties?"
"Yes," replied the burly leader that stood slightly in front of the other two guards. He looked grim. "I think it's a lost cause though. We went northwest from Kosha, but got a bit disoriented and cut back to the east. The woods are too dense further inland, and it's impossible to see anything at night."
"We've been following his trail," Shanadar said, although Katerei was grateful that he didn't explain how. The Enforcer must have picked up on her decision to remain in her usual form to talk to the guards. They could just assume one of adventurers was a skilled woodsman. "We're having trouble keeping up with him though. It's been a long and exhausting day for us."
The burly guard hesitated. "Are you... sure we're chasing the right man?"
"What?" Shanadar asked, baffled. "Yes, of course, what-"
"It's just that we stumbled across another dead animal, mangled like the others," the guard cut in. He added emphatically, "It wasn't fresh enough for Rapierian to have killed just now. Looked like it was killed several hours ago, sometime in the afternoon."
The three adventurers looked shocked. "But we arrested Rapierian just after lunch," Yomu said, catching on. "And we came from southwest of town. There's no way he could have killed an animal here while we had him knocked out."
"Even if he is innocent of these murders, he did kill a guard to escape," Shanadar reminded him. "As an Enforcer it's still my duty to catch him."
"Well, good luck to you," the guard said, shaking his head wearily. "We're done here. This area isn't under Kosha's jurisdiction, and we all have families to go back to. This just sounds like a wild goose chase to me."
"I understand. Thank you for your effort, and for the info," Shanadar said. He and the guard leader shook hands, and the search party departed toward Kosha. He sighed and turned to look at the others. Yomu looked dispirited, and Katerei was watching the guards leave edgily as if she was waiting for them to get far enough away for her to become a wolf again - which indeed, was exactly what she was doing.
"It's all right if you two want to give up as well. I have a responsibility to keep searching, but you could return to Kosha, or Direct Nexus to Land King Hall and meet up with the others," Shanadar told them. He hoped they wouldn't, but at the same time didn't feel like it was his place to drag them on a lengthy search mission up the Cytheran coastline.
"And leave you here to be eaten by wolves?" Yomu said, hastily adding "No offence" to Katerei when he realized his slip. She gave a brief motion of her head to indicate it was fine. He continued, "Every killing that we've found or heard about has involved an isolated victim. It sounds like the killer is afraid to attack multiple targets at once. And since Rapierian apparently isn't the culprit, he or she could be anywhere."
"Yes," Katerei agreed, but her eyes were darting left and right around the woods, avoiding her companions' gazes. "We're safer together. It's possible Rapierian wasn't acting alone, which would explain this latest slaughter. Perhaps if we catch him, we can force him into confessing if he has a partner." Having said all she wanted and content that the other search party was definitely gone, she twisted and dropped onto all fours as a wolf, not bothering to conceal the transformation this time.
"An accomplice might explain how Rapierian escaped, too," Shanadar mused. He rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily. "Everything that happens seems to indicate we're dealing with something much bigger than we originally bargained on."
"We'd better get going, then," Yomu said and adjusted his pouch. "The night is still young."
Some time later, after still having no success in catching up to Rapierian, the group stopped and set up camp. It was well past two or three in the morning and they reasoned that Rapierian had to sleep eventually too, and travelling would be easier in daylight. They settled on three hours' rest in which they'd each take an hour watch, Katerei agreeing to take the first. The men fell asleep quickly, using their cloaks as blankets.
Katerei curled up in a ball of blue fur, her tail wrapped around her feet. She needed time alone to think. Exhaustion had turned her from skittish into morose, and the only motion was the slow rotation of her ears as she listened out for any danger.
It was getting increasingly harder to track Rapierian's scent. They still seemed to be on a fresh trail, but there was too much interference - including, to her chagrin, traces of that unnatural scent from the hilltop by Kosha. The scent was faded somewhat, most likely a day or so old, but it was enough. It grated at her nerves constantly and disoriented the normal way in which her wolf senses worked in conjunction. She wondered if she was losing her mind.
Shanadar and Yomu showed no sign of doubting her tracking ability, but she wondered if they ought to. They hadn't found Rapierian yet; maybe they had gone in entirely the wrong direction. Even if her companions' faith in her was misplaced though, she felt gratitude to them. They didn't seem to mind that she preferred to remain as a wolf and not speak to them, even when they stopped to rest. The unnatural scent that set off mental alarm bells in her mind and caused her to be so on edge also motivated her to keep track of it as much as possible, and to do so required her wolf's nose.
But at the moment, Katerei was getting too tired to even think coherently. She buried her muzzle in the dense fur of her tail to wait for her watch to be over.
They set out again the next morning, the dawn light filtering through the trees and casting a greenish haze over them. Dew covered everything in the forest, including the men's clothes and Katerei's fur. She gave a rough shake and water droplets flew in every direction, catching the sunlight and sparkling. The beauty of early morning didn't seem to match their bleak situation.
The search proceeded much as it had the previous night, leading them north roughly parallel with the coastline. Sleep helped, but it hadn't been enough. Shanadar and Yomu were hard-pressed to conceal yawns, and Katerei seemed a bit dazed as she sniffed about to follow the trail. "He can't be that much farther ahead," Shanadar said at one point in frustration. "He might have been better rested than us to begin with, but mages aren't exactly renowned for their stamina."
Despite this, it was mid-afternoon by the time anything changed. At first there was just a slight indication from Katerei, a pause in her gait and a twitch of the ears. Then she turned and trotted about twenty feet to the left, backtracked, and went forward another twenty feet on their original path. She gave a confused whine. Something was wrong here.
"What is it?" Shanadar called, but the wolf was already loping back to them, teeth bared and ears flattened in what Shanadar recognized as both scared and aggressive. "Have we lost the trail?"
Katerei didn't acknowledge his question immediately, circling around the men with her nose pressed to the ground. She whimpered again before turning back into her usual form, though her humanoid eyes still flashed fearfully as she spoke. "No, it's not that. There's... I don't know how to explain it. I can smell two trails."
"Both Rapierian's?" Yomu questioned. "Is one of them just older? He might have crossed a path he made several days ago."
"One is recent, and one is a few days old. That's the problem."
Katerei seemed too disturbed to speak much, so Shanadar filled in the details. "But Rapierian was with us for the last four days, and even though he seems prone to slipping off in the middle of the night, we were travelling much closer to the mountains. There's no way he could have made it here and back again from that far inland." He paused for a moment. "An accomplice is one thing, but how can Rapierian manage to be in two places at once?"
"How is that possible?" Yomu asked, looking just as confused as Shanadar.
"I don't know. Everything... smells... wrong." Katerei was striding back and forth, palms pressed against her temples. She swore and burst out, "I think I'm losing my mind. God, I shouldn't have led you two here. I'm so sorry. I don't trust my own senses anymore, don't know where we're going, don't see how any of this is possible. It's not just Rapierian, either. Yesterday evening in Kosha I went out in the forest to clear my head and something like this happened. There was this scent, and it was so powerful that I knew it wasn't a trail, it was a living breathing creature nearby. And it..." Katerei dropped her hands and stared up at the sky. "It was me. Another wolf that didn't just smell like me, I swear it was me, but standing a furlong away from me."
Having arrived at the tavern, Selax, Wizard & Silver ordered what they desired, though when the tender named the price for pomegranate juice Silver turned several shades toward metallic & decided to order a cluster of grapes instead.
"So, do we investigate recent events on our own, or attempt to rejoin our companions?" Silver queried in his best imitation of Selax's style.
"Those pursuits may be necessary to each other," Wizard replied, "due to the nature of recent events." He tapped his head to indicate the events he was referring to.
Selax nodded, "I think we may have an enemy as skilled in telepathy as you are."
They all brooded for a moment, considering the potential ramifications of that possibility.
A long trek and a longer ship ride across an irritable sea took Talos off the shore of an island he had never seen before. Sandy beaches staggered drunkenly up the coast in the sleepy evening light. Trees huddled together and whispered with the breeze for as far as the eye could see. Mountains lazed in the far distance dreaming of white clouds that drifted drowsily across the sky. It was a beautiful scene. The captain agreed, but would take him no closer.
Dark tattoos scrawled over his face and the rest of his body made the sailors assume Talos was some great tribal warrior. In their efforts to impress him they let slip rumors of the land he travelled to. In between lurid tales of the mermaids bedded and the leviathans slain they told the warrior all they knew of Cythera. He learned little more than what he already gleaned from the poorly drawn cloth map in his pack. At least little he thought might be true.
As a last token of goodwill the Captain gave him a small boat so he wouldn’t have to swim to shore. It was an ill natured craft that enjoyed capsizing and threatening to sink. Soaking wet Talos dragged the damned thing the last few yards onto the sand. The ocean stole it back in moments. The surf chuckled as it crashed against the sand. “You can have it.” He muttered dryly, not bothering to chase the boat as it ambled out to sea.
The sun laid an orange blanket over the shore as Talos made for the treeline. His father’s white armor, Silence , encased his left arm and chest. It made no secret of being annoyed by the ocean water. It ranted to him in the blue runes that flickered on its surface, written in a language he never understood. He wasn’t sure if it meant him to. After a time the incantation chased the water from his clothes. Among the trees blades of light stabbed through the gloom wherever they found breaks in the forest’s emerald armor.
The trees held their breath. The fighter’s padded steps were the only sounds that braved the hushed woods. It was far quieter than the hour demanded. With his silver hair and white raiment Talos was a phantom in that haunted place. His ghostly cyan eyes did not help the image, “Something is wrong here…”
Talos grabbed the ivory hilt of his longsword, Shimmer , and eased it from its sheathe. Its golden edge pulsed with inner light. The blade dared enemies to raise challenge. Moments passed ruled by silence and stillness. Nothing stirred. He pushed on warily.
A total lack of the living was what unnerved him in the forest. Animals would flee before the wrath of a fire or the fury of a storm but the most threatening thing Talos had faced was a rock he stumbled over before clearing the trees. A terror of legend it was not. The warrior had to walk south for a time before catching the first sign of a small town. The sun was a red wound bleeding into the horizon. It stained the town an ominous red. No one walked the streets. Talos felt eerily reminded of the forest.
The map named that place Kosha. There was no other information. No wall surrounded Kosha but a pair of guards stepped forth to bar the path. Talos felt strongly that his presence was not wanted, “What happened here?”
The guardsmen looked harried. Their uniforms were dirty and slept in. They approached him with caution and ignored his question, “What business do you have here stranger?” Only one of them spoke. The other fingered the pommel of his sword.
“I only came because I thought I could help. It looks like your people need it.”
The guards exchanged glances before the speaker nodded, “Follow us.” They led him deeper into the town. Houses stared at him unblinking as he marched down the road. People watched from their shadowed windows. Silence flickered in blue aggravation. It was a moody chunk of metal.
The manor lording over the town showed life. A pair of men spoke quietly before a large fountain and the guards made him stop a short distance off. “… and I’m telling you we need to concentrate on keeping our people safe. The guards need to stay here.” The larger man was frustrated, battling to salvage an argument he already knew was lost.
The second man was older and more reserved, “If you incite a panic you will have helped no one. Raperian, and whoever else is responsible for these crimes, is still out there.”
“Like I told the adventurers, Raperian can’t be the one killing those animals. Some of them died while we had him locked away.” The larger man insisted.
“But he did kill one of your men as he made his escape. The people have not forgotten that, how could you as the Captain of the guard?” the older man held up a silencing hand before the Captain could speak, “Such a grave crime cannot go unpunished. The people of Kosha are your family and friends, how do you think they feel believing adventurers from another city are trying harder to protect them than the guards? Patrols of the surrounding forest must continue and if those adventurers ask for your help again you will give it. Gladly. Understood?”
The Captain gave a rigid salute, “Yes Itanos.” The way he stalked off spoke differently.
Itanos sighed, shifting his attention to Talos and his guard escort, “And who are you young man?”
“Talos, sir. I’ve come to Cythera from across the sea and reached the shore this evening. I want to help if I can.” The warrior offered a bow.
Itanos’s eyebrows rose slightly, “From across the sea you say. Interesting. I take it you are not familiar with our current troubles?” it was not really a question but Talos nodded anyway, “I will try to explain quickly.”
A grim shadow had settled over Cythera and its weight was crushing the people. Fear and uncertainty festered in Kosha, putrid and stagnant. With two dead and their King in unknown peril the town’s citizens feared to leave their homes. In the shadow of the Judge’s manor Itanos finished, “And that is what we know thus far.”
“Was it wise to tell a stranger all this?” said the guard who first spoke to Talos.
Itanos shrugged, “I did not become a Judge because of my poor judgment of character. Young man, if you really want to help go to the Roasted Haunch.”
Confused, the warrior asked, “The tavern?”
The Judge chuckled softly, “Believe it or not you can find some of Cythera’s greatest heroes there. You are new to this land and while I do not doubt that your heart is in the right place if you really want to do some good you will need their help.”
“I understand. Thank—“
“Itanos!” an elderly man came huffing and puffing up to the Judge’s home, “You… have to… help.”
“Calm yourself Sorin, what’s wrong?”
“My granddaughter Sara,” the old man breathed in despair pointing towards the western forest, “she ran off to the woods and I heard her scream. I searched and searched but I can’t find her. Please!” he dropped to his knees on the dirt and begged, “Please rescue her!”
The Judge moved to action immediately, “Notify the guard Captain at once, we need a search party.” As the first guard sprinted off he turned to the second, “You get to the Roasted Haunch. Selax and Wizard must know of this. It looks like you will have your chance to help sooner than expect… Talos?” the warrior was already bounding to the woods.
A shadowed path
Night fell hard across the land. Among the trees Talos faced walls of unbroken black. Shimmer’s shining edge cut the darkness to ribbons but the warrior still moved at a measured pace. If he rushed in blind he would never find the child’s trail. Broken twigs, crushed flowers, someone had passed through recently. He knelt and brushed his left hand over the ground. He wore his gauntlet on that hand and azure writing danced across the back, “Something I can understand Silence , I don’t have time for games.” The armor considered that a moment. Quiet filled the time between. Finally patches of ground began to glow yellow. Footprints. They led further west away from Kosha, “Someone was here just before me…” he looked ahead into the darkness trying to decipher its depths. The clamor of men rose behind him. The search was beginning. Talos carved an arrow pointing west into the nearest tree and moved on. The glowing trail faded in his wake.
This post has been edited by Ragnar0k : 10 July 2009 - 03:34 PM
As he left Kosha, Rapierian's mood improved.
It was well he had expected something like this to happen. He had hidden his books and several of his most valuable potions in a safe spot. It was not immediately accessible, but he had time.
His escape had been aided, which had been convenient in retrospect. He hadn't had to use any of his other plans for such contingencies.
Recent events seemed to confirm some of his theories and he now guessed that he knew more about what was going on than most others in the group.
Still, that was for another time. Right now, he had other business.
Turning, he took a northeast route, heading toward where he had stashed his books. Later, he would return to the mountains.
At that same moment, outside an old cabin not far away, another man was also busy.
This man was walking back and forth. His gait was somewhat odd but seemed to be becoming more natural with every step. Sometimes, he started running. Sometimes, he jumped.
Eventually, he picked up a quarterstaff from the ground next to the door and began to run through a series of exercises with it. Moments later, he produced a sword and began to do something similar.
He was obviously going through some sort of physical conditioning regime, and he did not seem satisfied with the results. Nevertheless, he continued for some time.
Beorn paused in consideration. He had survived his trek down the mountains five days before, but his injuries were severe and were perhaps beyond his cure. His constant exercises and experiments were helping him, but they could only drive him so far. He also had had no news from the outside world in that time. Still, he had a fair idea of what was happening and what else was to be expected. For now, he had no choice but to proceed as he had been doing. After all, he didn't know who in this land could be trusted.
For a moment, he rubbed his face, seeming irritated. As he did so, he noted the setting sun and gauged the time.
Beorn was a man of average height, with brown hair and eyes. His face was tanned and beardless. He wore an old brown cloak and old faded alligator boots. To most people, he simply resembled an old mountain prospector. His movements seemed peculiar, sometimes graceful and sometimes erratic and clumsy. The stiffness with which he conducted himself suggested some kind of injury.
Turning, he entered the cabin. It was time for dinner. As part of his recovery efforts, he stuck to a strict schedule and ate only foods which would aid in his recovery. Fortunately, the inhabitant of the house had had some of these in stock. Quickly, he retrieved the necessary items and prepared a light meal.
Of course, he found such food revolting, but he had lived with far worse.
As he ate, he once more pondered the situation. He had no one whom he could trust to warn, since Alaric must surely be in some trouble by now as well. The current outlook was grim. Disaster in some form was inevitable and no warning could now avert it.
Best to prepare and be ready at the opportune moment.
It was now almost dark outside. Still, he planned to continue his exercises for some time yet once he had finished eating.
Beorn was just cleaning up after his meal when a knock on the door came.
Speculatively, he regarded the entrance to the house.
Most people did not know where Wizard's cabin was, and he doubted the old man would feel the need to knock on the door to his own house (which Beorn had decided to borrow during his convalescence since it was empty anyway). He had not expected any visitors. He knew that whoever was there would know the cabin was inhabited at the moment. There was sign enough outside.
It was good that he had prepared for this problem even though he had not expected it.
The knock came again.
He stepped to the left in the shadows. Whoever was entering would enter facing the lantern he used as a light source. With the glare momentarily in their eyes, he would have a chance to see who his guest was. There were, of course, risks to this, but he had other plans in case things looked grim.
Carefully, he picked up the quarterstaff in his left hand used it to lift the bar on the door. Sword in his right hand, he lightly called, "Enter."
Troyen last edited by
Avatara paused for a moment. Orange beams from the setting sun filtered in through the leafy forest foliage, creating a warm and inviting scene. A handful of insects buzzed by, on a quest for pollen. He didn't see any of this; his mind was focused on the homely cabin nestled against the edge of the small clearing ahead.
It wasn't so much that he didn't know what to say, it was more that he didn't know what to do if Wizard wouldn't believe him. He was taking a big risk by coming all the way out here, but then again, everything was at risk now. His window of opportunity was slowly getting smaller and failure was out of the question.
Avatara took in a deep breath, breathing in the scent of nature. Somehow it smelled different than the aroma he was used to, as if it was more alive. Fully calm, he continued forging his way to Wizard's house in the mountains.
As he approached, he noticed signs that someone was living here. Trampled grass, a small pile of half-cut firewood, the smell of recently cooked food. He hoped Wizard wouldn't mind guests so late. The sun had finally dipped under the mountains, but Avatara couldn't afford to wait another day.
He stopped outside the door, having made no effort to mask his approach. A dim light was visible through the cracks of the door indicating someone was definitely home. He took a deep breath, ran through in his mind what he would say, his proposal, counter-proposal if Wizard declined, and answers to the likely skeptical questions he could expect. Though, maybe it was all for naught, if Wizard chose to simply use his telepathy to speed the whole process along.
He raised his fist and knocked loudly on the door. A moment passed. No response. The woods nearby had gone quiet. Odd.
Avatara knocked again. This time the light behind the door wavered and a light sound of movement came from the other side. Maybe he just didn't hear it the first time.
The movement stopped. There was some scuffling and scraping against the door, but the bar was lifted and the door creaked slowly open, revealing an unoccupied sitting area. A man's deep voice called out quietly from inside, "Enter."
Avatara was suddenly suspicious. Not only did that not sound like the Wizard, but they expected him to walk through an open door into an room with a mysterious occupant who was trying to remain hidden? Was he serious?
He stepped quietly back from the door, grabbing his belt knife, and quickly made his way over to the open window behind the tree to his right. Tilting his head slightly, he surveyed what appeared to be the bedroom. Nobody was visible, so he lightly hopped inside.
"You can come in," the voice came again, close by. He must be hiding on the other side of the wall.
Avatara quietly tiptoed to the door, gripped his knife tightly, then swung into the entryway. He had the chance to spot a blur of motion shortly before a lantern smashed into his face with a loud crack. The room spun, and he fell to the floor disoriented, his cheek screaming out in pain. A boot crunched on some broken glass as his assailant took a step towards him, then stopped and said, "Oh, its you."
Oh, its me? Avatara tried to clear his vision and identify the man, but the room was still swimming with stars.
"I must admit, I wasn't expecting you to show up." He still couldn't identify the voice, but if this person really knew him, he would have to play along.
"I wasn't expecting such a warm welcome," Avatara replied. His cheek still throbbed and something warm was trickling down his chin, but the dizziness was fading and he was able to pull himself onto one knee. After a brief pause, he looked up, blinking, and stared at the man moving about, looking for something. The man made some noise in the corner, and then light flared back up in the room as he returned with another lantern. The first one looked damaged beyond repair, the shutters either cracked or broken out, and the frame bent in on two sides.
"Most people wouldn't break in when invited inside," the man replied as he gestured to the door still opened wide to the night. Now that he was standing in the light, Avatara could get a look at his opponent. He appeared to be an ordinary man with brown hair at first glance, young enough to have no beard yet. His brown eyes were tinged with redness and framed with heavy dark circles, as if he had hardly slept in days. The lantern was wavering slightly, as if he was somehow unfamiliar to his hand, or perhaps it was too heavy. The man paused and stared silently at the blood-tinged broken glass on the floor.
No good, I don't recognize him. Am I supposed to know him? He would have to risk it. "My mind is having trouble focusing right now, what was your name again?"
Never heard of it. Well, there was an old fairytale, but that was probably unrelated. "Remind me where I've heard that name before."
I guess that settles it? But just who is this guy? No choice now but to hope. "Do you know where the Wizard is? I thought this was his house."
"It is." Very talkative fellow. At least he had started moving and cleaning up the glass.
"Is he around? Do you know when he'll be back?"
Beorn looked at him for a moment, as if considering his answer. Finally he replied, "I've been waiting for several days, I don't think he'll be back soon."
Just great. Two days wasted. He'd need to find some way to reach the Wizard now, but he could be anywhere. The next likely place to look would be a major town, like Cademia. Perhaps someone there would know where he was.
"Well Beorn, sorry for the trouble, but I guess I'll be going then."
Beorn looked up at him again, "You're planning on traveling at night?" He almost sounded skeptical, but he was still far too calm for it to be concern.
Avatara chose his next words carefully, "Its very important that I reach Wizard before it is too late." For a moment, he had a dim hope that Beorn did know Wizard's whereabouts and was merely keeping quiet about him, but Beorn said nothing. His hope faded, so he grabbed his knife, staggered to his feet, and walked out the door.
"I'll come with you," Beorn said from behind him. Avatara glanced over his shoulder, somewhat surprised and partly suspicious. "As you said, Wizard might not return for some time, and I also need to find him quickly."
A plausible reason, and one that was impossible to verify just yet. But, he probably knew more about what was going on than Avatara did, so it was an acceptable risk.
"I'll need a minute to gather my things," Beorn said. Avatara nodded and headed back to where he had left his traveler's cloak and pack at the far end of the clearing. It was going to be several days before they reached Cademia.
Silver, at least, was glad to have the silence broken, though he'd have preferred a parade over the frantic search that summoned them. Itanos quickly informed them of the new man who had come to aide Cythera in its dark hours, & assured them of his good faith. When Silver heard that it was a young girl who had gone missing, he didn't pause to hear more but rushed off into the forest with great haste. Luckily for him, Talos' trail was easy to follow even before he had marked the trees.
It wasn't long before Silver saw the glowing trail that Talos followed, & figured rightly that some clever magic was afoot, revealing the path that either the girl or her captor had taken. Silver thought to rush ahead of the warrior & help the maiden, but as he went whistling past Talos' left shoulder, he rammed into a gauntleted hand, & fell to the forest floor.
Blood trickled down Silver's face, & he considered losing consciousness for a moment, but the pain of magic grounding on his body convinced him to maintain an alert demeanor. He stumbled to his feet & had his injuries sealed by the time Talos realized what had just transpired. "We need to rescue her!" Silver remarked as he finally regained the air.
The small adventurer had come upon Talos so quietly and so fast that he reacted purely on instinct and Silence’s prompting. The warrior whirled with his gauntlet facing the stranger and his golden blade raised to strike, “The girl needs to be rescued!” the adventurer repeated, ignoring danger for the sake of the child.
Silence murmured soundlessly and turned its attention elsewhere. This person was not an enemy, “I’m sorry. My name is Talos, I came to—“
“I know.” The adventurer cut him off, “I’m Silverfish. Itanos said you came to help us. Well I’m here to help you help the girl.”
In another setting Silver might have been a more jovial person. At the moment pleasantries were of far less import than Sara’s safety and he was clearly determined to see nothing happened to her, “Then let’s hurry.” Talos replied as he turned to chase the phantom trail.
The pair stalked the night choked forest. Silver proved just as stealthy as he had been in his arrival. He glided just above the treetops and ghosted the warrior’s path. Even so the sounds of his flight and the pounding of Talos’s boots were the only things to be heard. The woods were green, lush, and deathly quiet. The forest was no longer the haven it once was. It felt like a nest of evil. A place for wrong things. Silence agreed. Blue script battered the shadows while the armor thought deep. Shimmer shined steady stealing splendor from the starlight, a salient spear stabbing through the sinister gloom. The adventurers did not speak. They listened. The movements of those they tracked would sound just as loud as their own.
In the distance ahead there was sobbing. Silver heard it first and raced ahead, swooping amongst the trees and out of sight. Talos ran to catch up. The time for quiet was ended. Now there would be battle… or not. Talos burst into a small clearing. An ocean of stars poured light into the grove. On the far side Silver comforted a girl who could be no more than seven. They had found Sara. When she caught sight of Talos her eyes went wide with fear but Silver quickly soothed her, “It’s okay now, you’re safe. We’re friends of your grandpa. I’m Silvy.” Next to her the adventurer seemed like a child’s favorite doll. He must have been very fond of children, the way he fussed over and reassured Sara like a worried parent. He looked back to Talos, “Some of her clothes are ripped but she’s not hurt.”
The warrior nodded as he walked around the clearing. The glowing trail continued west beyond the trees. “You know grandpa Sorin?” Sara asked between sniffles.
“Yes we do.” Silver turned his attention back to her with a smile, “He was very worried about and was looking all over. We came out to help him.”
“The monster ran away.” Sara said suddenly, noticing where Talos was looking, “…light started coming from the ground it stepped on so it dropped me and ran away.”
Silver turned to the warrior, “It saw the trail when you got too close?”
“It must have. Can you scan the area? It should still be close.” Left unsaid was the danger the girl would be in if they were pulled into a fight with some beast. There was no need to scare the girl any more.
Silver hesitated but nodded in the end. To Sara he said, “You stay with my friend Tal for a minute. Don’t worry he only looks scary so he can scare away monsters. That’s why it ran off.”
In moments Silver sailed up beyond the trees darted out of sight like a shooting star. With the gleam of his metallic skin he blended into the sparkling blanket above him. Talos tried to look everywhere at once as if he expected enemies to leap upon him from every side. Sara contended herself to stare into Shimmer’s pulsing glow. Moments passed in silence within those woods where nothing wholesome lived. It was an eternity before Silver drifted back to the soft grass minutes later, “It’s too dark to see anything,” the adventurer said, “the starlight won’t sink passed the trees. The thing that’s out there has some sort of magic to hide itself.”
Talos didn’t like it but the smart move was to let the beast escape and return the girl safely to Kosha. He told Silver as much. The adventurer considered, “I think you’re right. The best thing is to bring Sara back to her grandpa. My friends Wizard and Selax, you haven’t met them because they were in different search parties… I think. Anyway, they’re really smart. When we tell them what happened they could make up a good plan. Especially knowing you can track this thing.” Talos gave a last look into the darkness that swallowed his glowing trail. He cast a baleful glare into the depths of those shadows. For the moment there was little else he could do.
A short time later
Talos sat at a table with Silverfish in the Roasted Haunch tavern awaiting the return of Selax and Wizard. They were back from their own search parties and were learning what they could from Itanos about what the others had seen. There was little and less useful information to be had but anything was better than nothing at all. That the monster escaped still ground upon Talos’s nerves.
Sara was returned to her grandfather and so the night could still be called their victory. The child’s rescue gave the citizens hope. It was something desperately needed in the fear ridden atmosphere. Selax and Wizard stepped through the tavern door. Neither of them looked in high spirits. Silver stood, “Cheer up, we saved the day!”
“Sorin.” Wizard sat down heavily in his seat and shook his head.
Talos frowned at him, “What’s happened?”
Selax answered in a low voice as he took his seat, “Right after he took Sara home he tripped and broke his neck.”
“What?!” Silver gasped, trying to keep his voice down.
Wizard nodded, “We heard while we spoke to Itanos. We didn’t get a chance to see the girl but she must be devastated. Itanos is having her stay in house Comana for now since she has no other living relatives. It is a shame but he wants to keep news of this quiet for now. He doesn’t want to dash the spirits of his people just after they have been lifted.”
“First the monster and now this?” Silverfish muttered, “That’s just cruel.”
A short time earlier
As the two adventurers finally relented a shadowed figured sighed in relief. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, “Who was that, how could he have followed me?”
The reply from a massive creature beside him was a slavering bass rumble, its voice was offensive to mortal ears, “I do not know. It hardly matters.”
“Hardly matters?!” he choked, “We knew our enemies perfectly, our plan hinges on that. Now they’ve found a new ally with strange powers.”
Scarlet cat’s eyes peered at him from the shadows, “It is too late for one man to make a difference. This land is already ensnared. That mortal should not unsettle you so greatly.”
“And you are entirely too calm. There is something disturbing about him…” he trailed of, “He came too close and I had to place the girl there. What do we do now that they have her?”
“Nothing,” the deamon’s laugh was blood gurgling over snapping bones, its fangs were stained red with chunks of gore, “she will serve her purpose. Having her rescued is far less suspicious than having her walk out of the forest alone. This works to our advantage, not theirs.”
“Fine, but we have to do something about this now.” He kicked the body small lying at his feet, a small girl of seven torn almost to pieces. A red maw gaped where her heart should have been.
The creature was nonchalant even being the thing that did that to her mere moments before the adventurers arrived, “Take it with you and place it with the others. I will have to return before dawn and dispose of them. We cannot allow your tracker to follow your trail to them and discover our deceit. When you are done head to Cademia. If he intends to follow you make sure he does so straight to his doom.”
“…and what about his strange powers?” he was still nervous about the implications of this unknown force.
The dark creature shook its head, nearing the limits of its patience, “No plan is flawless. There is always that which you cannot account for. That is all he is, a minor detail unforeseen. Warn the others in the other cities if you must. But first complete your task. I have my own before I can help clean your mess.” The beast stalked off in near silence for all its size.
Grumbling to himself the shadowed man marched off with small body draped over his shoulder. Blood oozed into and over his cloak sticky and still warm. He ignored it. There would be time to change after he reached the cave. There were glamours laid over the forest, spells to deepen the darkness, enchantments that made it difficult to track his movements and those of the others. All were powerful beyond his understanding. Even a skilled mage would have great difficulty cutting through them. How then had that man chased him so very easily?
The powerful stench of rot smashed across his face like a hammer. For a moment even he felt sick. He had reached the cave faster than he expected. The spell keeping the stink from drifting away locked it in a small area and concentrated it many times. A dozen bodies smelled like the leavings of a battlefield left to cook in the sun. He threw the child onto the pile roughly and staggered away. They were the deamon’s problem now. Sara’s figure rolled down a pile of men turned gray and putrid green. Half of them wore the uniforms of Kosha guards.
"What about the creature?" Talos asked after a minute's silence. "It's too big a risk to be allowed to run freely."
"I'm inclined to agree," Wizard replied with a sigh. "I had hoped to go north and meet up Shanadar, Katerei, and Yomu. Perhaps we could find Rapierian then. But the last thing the people of Kosha need is for another monster to terrorize them."
"Perhaps this creature has some knowledge of these strange events of which you speak?" Talos suggested. "It might be explanatory if we could catch it."
"Agreed," Selax stated. "This creature might provide us with useful information. It could tell us whether or not it works with Rapierian."
"At least, the people of Kosha might feel safer if we drive it off," Silverfish added.
"It's too dark to track now, very dangerous too," Talos said. "We should wait until dawn."
Selax and Wizard both nodded in agreement.
Hours later, when the sun had just started to peek over the horizon, the four slipped out of town and very carefully proceeded to the clearing where Sara had been the previous night. After the trauma she had suffered and the death of her grandfather, the little girl had not been in a state to tell them much of anything about the monster that had taken her. Taking care to avoid a possible ambush, they moved into the clearing. After a brief search of the area, Talos began to circle the patch of forest looking for the trail.
After a minute, he called softly to the others, "Here." When they had joined him, he pointed at the tracks that he had found. "They appear to be heading north as well."
"Hmm, we might just run into the others after all," Wizard mused.
"We should be careful," Selax stated. "There may be an ambush waiting for us."
The four spread out. Silverfish flew into the air about fifteen feet over their heads, keeping an eye on them and patches of forest ahead of them. Wizard stayed back, using his telepathy to probe the areas ahead of them. Talos was at the front cautiously following the trail. Selax walked to his left and slightly behind him, ready in case of trouble.
Slowly, carefully, they headed north along the strange set of tracks...
On the western beach of an island in the middle of a lake, halfway between Kosha and the mountains, and far from the chaos that had fallen hard on Cythera, a figure was meditating.
Technically, she was not on the beach. K was seated cross-legged in the lake, up to her waist in water, hands resting lightly on her knees. Behind her a pair of shoes, gloves, a sash and a weapon sheath attached to a belt were neatly organized on the sand. The ends of her long blue hair floated on the water as the current gently swayed her back and forth. Although her eyes were closed and she seemed deep in concentration, her ears were carefully attuned to her surroundings. She would not slip up again.
Although she was in plain sight here, it was safe enough for now. She would hear anyone approaching before they got near enough to harm her, and in the unlikely instance that someone managed to get too close, it would be easy enough to escape them by diving into the water. Years of practice had made her an excellent swimmer, and a bit of delicate and oft-overlooked spellwork could filter oxygen out of the water, effectively allowing her to breathe underneath the lake surface.
Of course, there was the troublesome issue of the other , who quite possibly knew water magic equally well. It was this frustratingly omnipresent obstacle that caused K to be at this island, mentally poring over every tiny detail that could give her an edge. She seemed to have escaped pursuit for the time being, but if the other were to catch up it could prove deadly. That was the one person who was exempt from any precautions, any planning, any form of protection she might have, and as such time was going to be a precious commodity. K's mouth twisted into a slight frown and she sunk deeper into her mind, placing herself back in her memory from the night before.
_Somewhere west of Kosha, a wolf ran flat-out through the forest. It was small in stature but ran with the natural ease inherent to all wolves, paws hitting the ground lightly as it darted between trees and leaped over rocks and fallen logs. Spears of moonlight that fell between branches shimmered on its glossy, navy-coloured coat. Its upright ears and intelligent eyes gave the illusion of calmness, but the breakneck speed at which it ran betrayed its rapid thought process.
K was not pleased with herself, but she was used to pressure and was determined to handle this rationally. It had only taken a few seconds for her to overcome her shock and for the danger instinct to kick in before she began running. That head start ought to allow her enough time to sift through the details and decide upon a more concrete plan.
She had discovered the existence of the other woman yesterday - the other 'her,' although she still had trouble thinking of the other as such. She hadn't seen her directly, but had stumbled across the scent of the group that the other woman travelled with. K didn't understand it, but understanding wasn't important. Escaping was important. Discovering _yourself _could never be a good sign and not knowing what potential threats that might bring, she fled toward the eastern coast.
Naturally, K was more than aggravated when she attempted to circle around Kosha, only to come across the scent of the group's path as they headed _into _the city. Of all directions they could have chosen...! She was in the midst of re-planning her route when she realized that the breeze carried a fresh, living scent toward her: the other woman was nearby, and she was alone. All her caution, training, rational fear, were insignificant compared to the overwhelming curiosity that seized her at that moment.
K felt faint with trepidation as she paced silently through the trees toward her other. Would everything else - the physical appearance, the voice, the mannerisms - be just as identical to herself as the scent was? It was difficult to believe this could actually be a duplicate of herself. The smell had to be some bizarre coincidence. Perhaps the two of them were related. But despite her skepticism, as the wolf crept closer a shiver went through her body that warm fur and logic couldn't stop.
The unnatural other was sitting on top of an open hill, which forced K to stop at the tree line and observe from a distance. She crouched in the bushes, her dark fur concealing her from sight. Her eyesight was weak compared to her sense of smell and hearing, and the angle from the bottom of the hill was far from ideal, but she could at least see her seated on the grass. Behind the woman, the moon was rising in the eastern sky, sullenly drowned out by the last vestiges of twilight.
A sudden gust of wind lifted the woman's long blue hair, and K's insides went cold with the familiarity of it. There were differences between the two - K hadn't worn a full-length skirt like that in years, and she had altered some of her hair to a darker shade while the other's remained her natural light blue - but these were subtle differences, malleable and unimportant. When the other put her hand to her lips in a nervous gesture that was so recognizable it hurt, K could no longer deny that she seemed to be staring at a duplicate of herself.
The need to be closer was irresistible. Overriding her better judgement, K did a quick scan of her surroundings. To her right, the ground rose and and the tree line extended closer to the hill. She began shifting through the underbrush carefully, trying to reposition herself to see better, but as she moved her attention was momentarily distracted. The other had stood and was picking something up. K's tail twitched with concern and she crouched lower to the ground so as not to be noticed. She kept an eye trained on the figure at the top of the hill as she continued to circle around to the right. Was the duplicate leaving?
With her attention divided K didn't notice the wind shift. The other was putting on a black hooded cloak now, and then twisting and dropping lower to the ground -
K paused in shock. How could something so obvious have escaped her? Obviously another her would have the same ability for metamorphosis, and she watched in growing horror as the other woman was replaced by a small, ice-blue wolf. Obviously another wolf would also have the same acute senses. The breeze rustling through her fur suddenly caused her to realize she was now downwind of the hill... and with that thought, the dark wolf was already up and running.
The knowledge that there was a potentially dangerous person out there with exactly the same abilities as her was what kept K racing westward at her fastest maintainable speed. She couldn't hear the other wolf in pursuit, but it might decide to track her scent later, and she was not keen on the idea of fighting herself if it caught up. Indeed, perhaps she was wrong in her estimate of the other's abilities; was it not possible that the other could be faster or stronger? The only solution was to make sure the other wolf would lose her scent, and for that she needed water._
K sighed as she awoke from her memory. It had been a long and exhausting trip to the lake. Her wolf body was built for running long distances, but not at that speed. Dawn had been breaking behind her as she reached the eastern lakeshore and swam straight to the island, where she collapsed into sleep, hoping that it was secluded enough to be safe.
When she woke in the late morning, the first thing she did was check nearby for signs that anyone else had been there - footprints, scents, broken flora and so on. Finding none, she changed out of her wolf form and walked down to the western shore where she would not be immediately visible to people arriving from Kosha. It was here that she left her possessions on the beach and stepped into the cool water, wearing only skintight clothing that would be easy to swim in if she needed an escape route.
Keeping her hand positioned at her knee, K made a brief gesture underwater. The lakewater coalesced and rose from the surface in the shape of a miniature woman that spun slowly in front of her. "What advantage could I possibly have over you?" she murmured to the liquid manikin. The memory hadn't given her much to go on, but it seemed like a reasonable assumption that the other woman could do anything K herself could do - and to be on the safe side, it ought to also be assumed that the other could do it better.
"I know you, though," K said to the waterform, and it slowly shifted to become a wolf. She paused, reflecting on how her duplicate had been alone when they encountered each other. "You... are... me. You left your companions because you needed to be alone, same as I would do. So if I want to avoid you... I have to do what we wouldn't be expected to do."
She knew even as she said this what it would be. She habitually avoided people unless she needed them, which meant she would expect to find herself as far away from civilization as possible. Which meant... K made a contemptuous sound in her throat. It was just her luck that to avoid one person, she would have to stop avoiding all the others. Kosha was out, of course; she couldn't know yet if her other was still there. Cademia was the next closest city.
K rose gracefully from her meditative pose and turned back to the beach to get her possessions, already forming a plan in her mind. Behind her, the abandoned water manikin dissolved in mid-air and collapsed back into the lake with a gentle splash. It had been the better part of a day since she had eaten and she felt a bit faint, so her first priority was searching out sustenance, which she probably needed to return to the mainland for. While there she could also leave a clearly marked path to the west as a decoy, then return along the same path and swim across to the north shore where she could begin the trek to Cademia. It was far from an infallible plan, but it was the best she had.
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 19 July 2009 - 09:31 PM
One day south of Cademia
Silver flew lazy circles over the forest canopy. From his vantage he could see much further than the others but there was little that demanded his attention. A dense shroud of leaves hid the forest from him. What he could see was drowned in darkness. Below Talos walked in step with the glowing trail laid before him. The flashing steps were rushed and the ground was visibly disturbed. Even without Silence to guide the way the path would have been easy to follow. The gauntlet spoke to itself in its own written language oblivious to whether or not its services were crucial anymore. The night he first followed this man it was like chasing a skilled hunter. Someone well used to tracking and staying hidden in the woods. Now he followed a drunken bear. The shambling trail cut right through the forest with no regard to stealth. Maybe the man believed the group could follow him again no matter what he did. Maybe he wanted them to.
“I don’t like this.” Selax spoke up from beside him, “We’ve been after this trail for two days and it’s never turned. He isn’t trying to lose us in the forest. He’s leading us to a specific place or making a run for Cademia.”
Their formation had grown tighter as time wore on while Silver’s aerial patrol fanned wider. Wizard approached from the rear, “Perhaps he intends both.”
“Neither idea is comforting.” Selax said dryly, “If he planned on running to Cademia all along then we wasted time advancing slowly. He’ll be there by now, or soon, and we’ll have lost him. Talos how confident are you that you could track him in a city filled with people?”
“Not very.” Talos admitted. Silence had not told him anything outright but he got the sense that a large crowd would through off its ability to trace a lone man.
“I suspected as much.” Selax quieted in thought.
“If this man is indeed Raperian’s accomplice running to Cademia would make sense.” Wizard theorized, “The others headed north after the necromancer days ago. They did not return to Kosha and so must have continued north. The two might intend to meet there. If not then at the very least we will reunite with the others.”
Talos sheathed Shimmer in the back of his gauntlet, its golden light fading out as the metals bonded together, “The further we go the less likely I think an ambush is.”
“But if we aren’t cautious and there is an ambush…” Selax didn’t need to finish.
“I know.” Talos growled, not angry with Selax personally, “When I get my hands on that man it will be the end of him.”
Two kilometers south of Cademia
Dark magic had a strange effect on the forest. Trees curled and twisted, frozen in a writhing agony. Their gnarled fingers reached to the heavens to beg for mercy that would never come. Every breeze was a tortured groan struggling through their grasp. The underbrush grew savage and bold with tangles of weeds and roots. They clutched at you to tear you down. They snapped loud and sharp as brittle bone. Snakes fled before the hurried steps of a man in a brown cloak. His clothes dirty from hard travel through the woods. The trek from Kosha was long. It only felt longer when you pushed.
Devlin leaned roughly against a tree and caught his breath. Damn that daemon. Damn those adventurers. Damn that man who tracked him across half the island. He marched through the forest for two days afraid to rest for more than an hour at a time. Aremis was the agent overseeing Cademia, as Devlin had watched over Kosha. The other man would patrol the area soon and feel his presence. All servants of the Master could sense one another if they drew close enough. All that was left to him was to wait.
The old warrior closed his eyes. In the last days he had begun to feel his age more than he had in years. Old scars ached and forced him to remember. The Wars of Power… They were years when his land was consumed by fire and battle. When the Dread, men and women of great ambition and ability not unlike the Master, vied for control of all they laid their eyes upon. It was a land so much like this, and yet so different.
A sudden stirring of leaves begged his attention, “Aremis?”
“Has outlived his usefulness to me.” The familiar voice was strong as still. The sound of it poured ice over his soul. Devlin’s eyes burst open and he stood bolt upright.
A young swordsman in black stood before him. His hand rested on the hilt of the ebony sword at his hip. His green cape fluttered softly in the breeze, “…Galahad.” Devlin managed a bare whisper.
“Uncle.” The man’s eyes were gems cut from midnight. There was no love in his voice. There was none in his heart so far as his uncle could tell. That had left him as a child when he watched his parents butchered during the Wars. Fear, compassion, and mercy had left with it along with the better part of his humanity. Now he was one of the Dread and one of the most terrible.
The old man began nervously. “You’re supposed to be in our world. The Master commanded—”
Somehow Galahad’s gaze hardened, “You are supposed to be in Kosha. Why are you here?”
Lying to his nephew would only end in his death. That was likely Aremis’s fate. As quickly as he could Devlin explained his situation. Galahad listened without a word. His cloak made the only sounds in a wind Devlin could not feel. Why is he here? The old warrior’s mind reeled. Few of the Dread defied the Master now and those who aligned themselves with him had come to this world already. Galahad didn’t dare challenge them on his own, not on the eve of facing a new enemy. Did he?
“One of the Daemon’s sent you to Cademia as bait. Which?”
Daemon’s did not have names that could be pronounced in any human tongue. As a matter of convenience they were given other names to be called. Always the name was a defining characteristic like Red Claw or Shriek. The particularly nasty beast Devlin worked with in Kosha had a fitting name, “Feral. He was the one.”
“To Daemon’s a bloodline is a source of pride and power. You letting one of them command you has made me look weak. I will have to make right with this Feral quickly.”
“I’m sorry I troubled you that way.” He took a step away to place more room between them. No one knew the extent of Galahad’s powers, no one had lived to tell. “If you’ve learned all you need I must meet with the Master and warn him about that man.”
“You are a cautious man uncle.” The swordsman mused, “You will tell your Master that I have come?”
Devlin ignored the mocking tone and tried to sound apologetic, “I must tell him everything I know.”
Galahad sighed, “On this you must keep your silence.”
“There are no secrets from the Master Galahad. You know that.” The old man backed away another step.
The Dread swordsman shook his head, “You disappoint me uncle.”
Not knowing what to say Devlin turned to leave and bumped into a dark figure. His muscular frame was draped in layers of torn onyx robes. He wore spiked obsidian greaves and a bladed gauntlet on his right arm. A black cloth covered his face save for his right eye. It was a ruby forged in blood, “Impossible!” the old warrior gasped, “I watched you die!” The memory was from more than a year before but it was as fresh as the day it was formed. That man tried to summon a fell beast to devour their world. Two of the Dread died trying to stop the ritual. The remaining tore the man nearly in two and forced him through the portal he was opening. They fed him to the darkness of the monster he tried to unleash and his sundered body fought against them every moment. His remaining eye smoldered with hatred as the portal closed and the darkness consumed him.
His left arm was missing when Devlin saw him last. Now it was blacker than nightmares with hellish claws instead of fingers. Striking like a serpent the man latched onto Devlin’s throat and lifted him off the ground, “I am glad you remember that day.” He said darkly, his claws biting into the old man’s flesh.
Devlin clutched at the fiend’s wrist and felt the warm flow of his own blood run through his fingers. The life that flashed before him was not what he expected. He saw a life fulfilled and happy. A life he could have had. It was the life of a good man. He saw all the choices he had made and those he regretted never making. He saw his slow transformation from a man of principle into a servant of evil. And then he saw the boy. Scared of the child as the old man might have been Galahad was still his family. He had loved the boy as his own son once and tried his best to raise him after the death of his parents. Perhaps he had not tried hard enough, for if anyone was to blame for what Galahad had become it was him. There was still hope for that to change. There was still time for the boy to be a great man, but he could not die with his uncle at the hands of this monster. Through the pain Devlin struggled to rasp, “Run boy!” Galahad was proud and one of the few never to face this creature. Devlin begged whatever gods there were that he would listen.
The gods laughed in his face, “Run?” Galahad asked softly. For a moment the edge was gone from his voice. Or perhaps that was just the imagining of a dying old man. Galahad turned away with a flourish of his cloak, “Make his end a quick one Rythan. We have places to go.”
Shadows smothered Devlin’s vision as his last questions tormented him. How did that monster return? How had Galahad come to ally himself with it? His warnings would never reach the Master. A savage jerk and Rythan’s claws came away with most of Devlin’s throat. The old warrior hit the ground in a heap and gurgled his last breaths. Rythan looked down upon Devlin’s ruined form, his unspoken promise of vengeance fulfilled, “As you wish.” That red eye glowed with an unearthly light that seemed to read Devlin’s last thoughts. Galahad, what have you done?
Troyen last edited by
Somewhere west of Kosha
The morning sun filtered through the leaves, brightening up the forest and warming up the cool air. The night chill was slowly being blown away by a soft wind coming down from the mountains to their west. The forest was quieter than the day before, but still crawling with life.
Avatara sat with his back to a large tree, watching Beorn stooping over the lake. They had not made good time. His initial assessment had been the brown-haired man was highly perceptive of his surroundings and possibilities, the mark of an intelligent man. He seemed to know where hidden dangers were bound to lie and seemed always alert. He also was quiet and reserved, never once complaining that they risked much by traveling at night, as if he too could feel a sense of urgency.
Yet, for all his brilliance, he had packed an empty canteen. Avatara had refused to loan him any more water after he had squandered the one bottle he was given. The man seemed to lack common sense, first nearly collapsing from dehydration, then drinking too much too fast, causing him to throw up. He probably had stomach pains from the cold water too, but he didn't mention it. How could someone with such mastery of the mind have so little knowledge of the body?
It was tempting to leave him here and press on alone, but the more he thought about what he needed to accomplish, he became more convinced he would need the help of a native Cytherian when they arrived in Cademia. Avatara looked at Beorn washing his face in the lake, drenching his shirt in the process, and wondered again if this had been the right choice. He clutched the small pendant around his neck, as he did often of late, and pushed away his doubts. There may never be another chance.
He stood up, noting that Beorn would be ready soon, if he didn't collapse from suppressed fatigue, and wandered down to shore to refill his own water supply. Assuming no further delays, he guessed they could probably make the trek in two days.
Avatara grimaced as Beorn slipped on the mud while standing up and narrowly missed falling into the lake. It was going to be a long two days.
Some distance up the shoreline, a figure stood hidden in the trees and cautiously watched the man filling his canteen with lakewater. When K had come ashore, her sharp wolf's nose picked up the scent of fruit in the trees further down the lake, its warm aroma drifting temptingly through the morning air. It was a lucky break, she thought; she wouldn't have to waste time hunting.
But now she doubted her luck. It was because of this that she hadn't first smelled the man coming, having had to switch forms to pick fruit from the tree. While she ate and mused over how long of a decoy trail it would be necessary to make, the man had emerged from the trees and headed toward the lake. She saw him almost as soon as she heard him. Abandoning the fruit tree for the moment, she crept closer to investigate, hand resting warily on the handle of the flail that was sheathed at her side.
When she was close enough to see fairly well, she stopped to watch, and her worry gradually faded. The man was clearly not the most coordinated of people, and she felt confident that she could take him in combat if it came to that, though she hoped it didn't. After all her paranoia about her other following her, it was almost a relief to see someone else. K weighed out in her mind whether to approach him or not. He might be more dangerous than he looked, and she didn't especially need anything. She had food and thought she had a decent idea of how to get to Cademia. She was about to turn and slip away silently when she heard motion in the forest, about the same place where the man had come from. Alarmed, she paused to see who else was there.
Another man walked out of the forest and across the beach toward the first. Something about his stride, perhaps the fall of his hair, looked familiar, but K dismissed this thought immediately. It was impossible and she couldn't afford to be distracted. But as he approached the other man, who had just very nearly fallen into the water, and K heard the faint words "Almost ready to head off again?", she gasped as if she had been stung. She knew that voice.
Uncountable emotions washed over her like an ocean wave in a storm, flooding her mind and drowning out everything else. Why was he here? What did that mean? This could be the best or the worst news of her life, but either way, she had to find out. The curiosity that had driven her to approach her other the previous night was nothing compared to what she felt now. Heart pounding, all plans and precautions forgotten, she stepped slowly out of the trees onto the beach.
The two men were talking as the second knelt to fill his canteen in the lake. K didn't recognize the one that was half-drenched in water, but as she drew nearer she knew without a shadow of a doubt who the other was. She was barely aware of their conversation until the first man noticed her approach and pointed toward her. The second turned to look and as their eyes met from across the rocky beach, K felt as if the weight of the past threatened to suffocate her. "Avatara?" she said tremulously.
He looked older, and something in his expression seemed worn, as if the years had taken more of a toll on him than was allowed; though his comportment was grim and determined. His eyes seemed distant as he watched her walk slowly closer, but he recognized her. "Katerei?"
K flinched. "No one's called me that in years," she said quietly.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
That question gave K pause. It wouldn't do to explain to him that she was running from an apparent copy of herself; that would bring forth a whole host of other questions that she didn't want to go into, including possibly 'have you lost your mind?' On the other hand, she hated the thought of lying to him. She finally settled on an evasive, "Going to Cademia. What of you?"
K frowned inwardly at his taciturn sentences. Clearly some things didn't change: she always hated that she could never tell what he was thinking. On the other hand... she would be safer travelling with others. At the very least she could no longer make her decoy path with these two around. She gave a sideways glance at the other man, who was watching them with a strange look. She didn't know him, but if Avatara trusted him as a companion he must not be dangerous... right? K hesitated, all her training to overcome her impulsiveness and take precautions cracking under the weight of years of repressed emotion. She put her fingers to her lips nervously, trying to rein in the storm of conflicting thoughts. What would he think of her?
Desperation won out over pride and caution. K felt dizzy as the last fragments of the plan that she had made not half an hour ago evaporated. "Let me come with you," she said.
The struggle that Prusa refers to is the war among the elementals. It seems to be a major focus of hers, so I thought it should at least be mentioned.
The fifth day
Having retrieved some of his more invaluable potions and books, Rapierian's mood was much improved.
Even better, he had earlier come across a couple of ruffians. Draining their lives had greatly restored him. Something which he suspected was about to be of great use.
As he neared the head of the river, Rapierian thought again about the person that he was going to see. He had been to see Prusa once years ago. He had been curious about whether or not she ever actually had anything to say of value. After about nine hours, when he had carried on a one-sided conversation with her and the magess had carried on a one-sided conversation with who knows what, he had heard only one or two things of minor interest.
That result might have discouraged most people, but Rapierian considered the venture a success. Besides, rumor had it that she had gotten a tiny bit more stable after Bellerophon had healed Alaric. Thus, he was again coming to her with a question.
Casually, he looked at the book he was carrying: The Chronicles of Therac. One of the darkest texts to be found on Cythera, it contained many rambling predictions, ostensibly about the future or dark magic. Quite a few mages now considered the book to be a lot of nonsense . . . not that anyone had seen it in years. Still, it was at best a book of dubious authenticity.
Through means best left unsaid, the necromancer had acquired the book years ago. Months back, he had given an excerpt to Shanadar, although he was quite certain that the Enforcer had not taken him seriously. Now, he believed that it might be of some use to him, if he could translate it.
Therac had written in his book in archaic, mostly forgotten tongue of the dark mages. Few in Cythera could read it at all, and none could read it without taking great effort in the translations. Rapierian had spent a great deal of time on the work himself but had not gotten as far as he would have liked. Now, he was hoping for a shortcut.
Rounding the bend, he at last caught sight of Prusa.
The magess spun to face him, madness gleaming in her eyes.
"Ah, good day, Lady Prusa," the necromancer greeted her. "Fine weather today! I was hoping that you might have a look at a picture for me."
"Yes, you have come to learn, to laugh," she hissed, "but never to teach! Always a laughing actor!"
"No, not lately," he replied sadly. "It's been very dull of late. Now, as I was saying, about this picture..."
"A picture is worth a thousand words! But we are better off if you know none of them!"
Rapierian considered that.
"No, I'd say most are worth about eight hundred or so words. But anyway—"
"And what of the great struggle? What of Alaric? He alone could save us from the unseen war, but now, it and he are both bound—but by what? Themselves? Something from out? Can Alaric save us now or is he too doomed to fall?"
"Bound? Does that mean that Alaric is out of action again?" Rapierian responded, momentarily chuckling. "And this unseen war . . . the elementals, I guess?"
The magess glared wildly at him before saying, "Thus all things are presented by shadows."
"Yes, yes, I see. Anyway, I have a very rare book here The Chronicles of that I—"
"Therac! Another old fool. You and he are much alike."
"Now, here," he said indignantly. "I resent that. Therac was an idiot, yes, but I am not dumb enough to run and claim to be a seer, while participating in plots of world domination. Much funner to watch said plots fail, you know."
This discussion continued back and forth for about five hours. Finally, Rapierian got Prusa to look at the single illustration that was of any relevance. Details were hard to make out (Therac being a lousy artist) and the use of the image itself was dubious, but the necromancer was perhaps in a world all his own and persisted in believing it important.
By cornering her and shoving it before her eyes, he finally got a reaction from the magess.
"Past! Past! The past is important, but dangerous for such as you to know!"
"Past?" Rapierian mused. "Yes, I see. Well, thanks. I hope that we can do this again sometime, maybe in a century or two?"
"What do you want from me!"
Drawing back into the shadows, Rapierian mused over the picture.
"Past, are you? Well, I can't be sure, given the poor drawing, but I think that I have a lead now..."
So saying, he vanished into the shadows...
Silver continued to circle overhead for some time before drifting back down to his companions.
"I can't see anything in this accursed forest! We'd be better off running & hoping to pass any ambush before they notice us."
Then they passed under the branches of one of the gnarled trees. An ear-splitting roar later Silver was calling down to his companions from a safe distance, "I detect a forest drunk on incantations. Proceed at your preferred pace, I'll help if anything goes awry."
"How can you expect to help when you fled at the touch of a little magical interference?"
"Even a great warrior may flee an angered bee, though he thinks nothing of the gashes attained during battle. I'll be more prepared now."
Sixth Day, early hours of the morning
A lonely guard wandered the southeast edge of town, just north of House Attis, circling around the old nobles' houses. There had been a lot of vandalism reported from the previous night, and Berossus wanted to be sure to discourage ruffians. It was especially important right now, with all of the fuss about killings in the south and the grave news about Alaric's condition.
For his own part, Garmr couldn't feel more wasted. These houses had been abandoned for so long that the weather was causing them more damage than a vandal could ever hope to. But, it was the principle of the thing, Berossus had insisted. He was very clear to Orthrus, the captain of the guard, that vandalism should be nipped in the bud.
Why did he assign me here?! Garmr complained to himself. Surely Orthrus doesn't believe that any vandals are going to bother coming back here. . . they're wasting their own time just as much as mine. How he wished he could be helping guard the main part of town! It wasn't so much that Garmr wanted to get involved in a fight, but he did want to help stop a resurgence of ruffian activity if he could. Out here, at the very edge of town, there was really nothing he could do to help. Of course, with House Attis so close by, it could be in danger if a gang of ruffians were to come here, Garmr thought, somewhat encouraged by the idea that he may yet be helpful.
He thought he saw a figure move out of the corner of his eye. Moving silently, he approached the shadow. The figure was crouched next to one of the old cottages with a torch in his hand. "You there! Stop!" Garmr shouted as loudly as he could. The person dropped the torch, and with a burst of flame, the grass and vines that had grown so tall around the house began to burn. The figure turned; it was an innocent looking old man. Garmr thought he recognized him, "It can't be. Hey! STOP!" The man darted away from the building and down the street. Garmr followed.
That looked like Typhos, he thought as he ran with all his might. "Cerberus!" he called to his companion, who he'd glimpsed outside the Two-Tailed Rat. "Go alert Orthrus that one of the old noble houses has been set on fire, I'm chasing the culprit now!" He tried to be as brief and as quiet as possible, but there was little time. That old man moved fast.
For what seemed like an eternity, he followed the shadow around corner after corner, winding through the city like a rat caught in a giant maze. "You can't outrun me forever! We're going to get you!" Garmr shouted as the figure disappeared around a building.
A few minutes before. . .
Typhos was having trouble sleeping. His rest had been tainted all night long by a recurring dream, more like a burning desire: to hold that amulet. It was a family heirloom. His father had given it to him, and he had given it to his son, Orthrus, captain of the Cademian guard. Supposedly, in addition to being beautifully-crafted, it was magically imbued. His grandfather had claimed that it detected certain kinds of magic and suppressed them. Typhos never really believed that, but if there were any truth to it at all, he figured that Orthrus would be able to put it to good use. To this day, Orthrus still wore it around his neck, mostly for its sentimental value, since it had never really done anything to help him.
Typhos had never been very taken with the amulet; he'd practically forgotten about it. Until tonight. He couldn't stop thinking about it. First thing in the morning, he resolved to visit Orthrus and give it a second look, just to see if there was something about it he had missed before. He had to hold it. . .
Typhos started to drift off to sleep again when he was suddenly being shaken vigorously. "Grandpa! Grandpa!" Cindy called to him. Cindy, Orthrus' daughter, was spending the night with her grandfather. He was the only one who could calm her down at night -- she was very afraid of the dark. "What's wrong now, Cindy?" This was the third time she had awoken him.
The child was unusually frightened, her face contorted in a horrifying expression of fear. "Grandpa! They're coming to get me! Help me grandpa! They want to hurt me!"
His mind still groggy, Typhos' vision blurred a second. "Oh, no monsters are going to get you while I'm here," he tried to comfort the child. Cindy turned and ran to the door as she sobbed loudly. "Cindy! Don't go outside!" She undid the lock and vanished into the night. "There could be ruffians outside!" Typhos jumped to his feet. As he ran outside, he didn't see the small child who slept soundly on the floor, having finally lost all her energy after waking her grandfather twice. Outside, he was just about to call for Cindy when --
"You can't outrun me forever! We're going to get you!" a cruel voice growled from around the corner. Fearing for his granddaughter's life, Typhos waited against the wall.
Garmr hoped that he would catch up to the figure soon. He was beginning to think that whoever it was could outrun him forever. He ran around the building, not expecting anyone to be there. He was wrong. The figure pounced on him. Oof Garmr fell to the ground.
"Leave my granddaughter alone, ruffian!" Typhos shouted as he beat relentlessly on the ruffian.
"Granddaughter? I'm not a ruffian!" Garmr tried to block the blows. For a split-second, he doubted that Typhos had anything to do with the fire, the old man seemed more confused than Garmr, then something in his mind told him beyond a shadow of a doubt that Typhos was guilty. He couldn't say what. The two struggled for a minute, but Typhos was not a young man anymore. Cerberus had successfully alerted a few other guards who now came to Garmr's aid. "No!" Typhos shouted, blind with rage. It took three of them to subdue him; they had to knock him unconscious.
"Take him to the jail to hold him until Orthrus can speak to him." Garmr ordered the others, rubbing a bruise on his head. "Berossus will also want to question him about the building that was set on fire. Was anyone able to stop the fire?"
"No, the building's a complete loss," one of the other guard's replied.
Garmr looked east at the glowing sky, as well as a pillar of smoke that rose from the burned cottage. Soon, the sun's fingers would be reaching up over the horizon and the town would be waking up. Maybe then he could get some answers as to what just happened. "What a strange way to start the day. . ." he said to himself, again rubbing his head.
This post has been edited by The Wizard : 27 July 2009 - 01:09 AM
_I do not know who you are and there is little chance you would have called me friend. All the same I must entrust my task to you. If you are reading this then I have already died unsung and unremembered. History will forget my death as easily as it did my life. You must ensure I did not die in vain.
My true name was Seralcard. There are none who know it save for you. I was a master of shadows and death. I was an Assassin. It was without conceit that I named myself the greatest practitioner of my craft.
I was a master enchanter. With time and skill metal can learn any spell. Enchantments do not tire, they do not weaken, and above all they do not falter. At least that was what I believed. I crafted a bracelet with a spell meant to let me transport anywhere at will. I could not account for the ripples passed through the magic of Cythera in the moment I used the artifact. The smaller waves of my spell warped against them. Instead of traveling through space I was thrown through time. I was quickly trapped by the artifact. At seemingly random moments it flung me back or forward days at a time. Never before the moment it was first used.
Had that been all you would not be reading this. I would not have cared. For a week I ignored the world and did nothing but puzzle over the enchantment in search of a way to repair it. My last jump changed that. It changed my life…_
Day Four, a cabin somewhere north of Catamartica
The scratching of Seralcard’s pen stopped as he laid it beside the inkwell. The letters dried under the silver light of a Null stone. The palm sized crystal was probably his greatest work. A child of genius and irony. Trying to create a stone to amplify magical energy he crafted a gem that nullified it completely within a field of a few yards. It wholly swallowed the room he was in. He nudged it across the table with a gloved finger. It had no effect on normal people so far as he could tell. For creatures of magic it was lethal as a dagger in the night. Even enchantments were made worthless in its presence. All he wore was little more than steel inside the Null. Even the Nightmare bracelet, as he had come to call it recently. But he could not remove the bracelet without magic and he dare not leave the field to try again. The last time he used magic directly on Nightmare he was hurled weeks into the future.
Seralcard felt a prisoner to his creation. The black artifact shackled his wrist. He glared down at the cursed thing. Its deep blue jewel stared back at him wide-eyed and mad. It would be restless after being suppressed by the Null. Whether he left the field or it failed on its own he would make the next jump to whenever Nightmare wished to go. He had fed many souls to the gods of Death in his time. Now the assassin could feel their breath on his back. He feared falling to their hungering fangs before he could keep them from devouring the world. He retrieved his pen and set upon the parchment. The most important part of the tale was yet to be told and time was growing short. He relived the last jump as he struggled to find the words.
Day Twenty One
In one moment Seralcard traced Nightmare’s twisted spell. In the next there was a flash, a crackle of blue, and he was blind in a darkness that assailed him. A mad howl screamed in his ears. A tortured sound no men should ever make. The pained chorus groaned at the edge of understanding and he knew comprehension would harm his soul. The song stabbed oily tendrils through his skull. In a panic Seralcard clumsily fed magic to his light-charm. When it forced the shadows back the attack stopped and the screams died off. He dropped to his knees in an icy sweat. The assassin’s breath fogged in the air. It was cold as vengeance. His hands trembled as he pushed up from muddy soil and drew his cloak around him. Looking around he almost felt better off blind. Where am I?
Nightmare had dragged him down to a demonic realm, a birthplace of greater nightmares. A wall of darkness writhed against the edge of his light. It looked thick enough to drown a man. His black garb felt pale next to that void. The world smelled of fresh blood and old rot. The grass shivered scarlet and sickly. What trees he could see were plague ridden. They were misshapen things that wore scabs instead of bark and bled white ichor. They swelled and shrank to the rhythm of a wind he couldn’t feel. It was a sound that came from everywhere but refused to stir the air. The forest itself pulsed to the beat of a dying heart.
A dull light flashed in the distance like a torch on a foggy night. It showed the forest’s grotesque silhouette just before the darkness smothered it. The flash came again slightly brighter and with the outlines of five people running his way. Krakooom!! A fountain of lightning clawed at the sky with a deafening roar. “SILVER!” A woman’s voice cried out to the fading thunder.
Seralcard was on his way before the ringing died in his ears. The dull light was faint but steady as he headed towards it. Passed the dying trees strangers stood before a glowing stream. It was warmer there. The air was thick with the smell of burnt meat. Scattered fires grumbled irritably at either side of the river. Smoke and steam crept above it. A man carrying a torch knelt by the water, “By the gods… Did he stop them?”
“Don’t touch it Radik.” Growled a woman with long blue hair and matching skin. Arcs of electricity stalked the water’s boiling surface. Scores of smoldering shapes bobbed slowly downstream.
“But Katerei, Silver might still—”
“No,” her voice wavered. She steadied herself with a calming breath, “he saved us. His sacrifice won’t mean anything if we stay here…” She trailed off as the light of Seralcard’s charm seized her attention. Things happened very quickly then. Radik unleashed a brutal claymore as the other three men brandished swords that looked like toys beside it. Katerei stood still as stone but in the firelight of that hellish scene she seemed the greatest danger, “Are you one of them?” Unshed tears glistened in her eyes though her gaze was hard as steel. Seralcard had seen the woman before but he could not place where. There was no time to puzzle that out. He raised his hands to show himself unarmed. She didn’t back down, “Take off your hood.”
The depths of his cowl were shadowed. No one had ever seen his face. Even so he only hesitated long enough to work a few of his enchantments. When he drew it back the face they saw was young and smooth. He had blonde hair, green eyes, and a pale scar on his cheek. It was not his face, but they would never know. That seemed to settle the group, “I have no issue with you or your friends. I just want to get out of here.”
“Then you’re headed the wrong way.” Radik declared gruffly as he lowered his sword and reclaimed a torch from one of his companions, “Odemia is gone.”
“Odemia?!” the assassin blurted. Impossible, this ruined world can’t be Cythera
Radik mistook the reason behind his surprise, “It’s just rubble and fire now.” He turned to Katerei, “We should bring him with us, we can’t leave anyone out here to die.”
The woman weighed Seralcard with her eyes, “We can’t stay here. Fill him in on the way.”
“You have light so you’re with me.” Radik commanded, “Never split from the group on your own and never go into the shadows. No matter what.” He finished grimly. He and the Assassin led the group with one of the other men. The remaining two tried to scare away the darkness behind them with their torches. It looked to be scaring them and the torches both. At the heart of the group was the strange Katerei. She gave the torchbearers a wide breadth and cast her cautious gaze to the fires near as often as she did the shadows while they picked their way through the forest, “… the Bone Dragon forced us to scatter and retreat.” Radik was saying.
“ Bone Dragon?” Seralcard repeated in confusion as he pulled his cowl back up, “I never heard of anything like that in all of Cythera.”
“Neither had we before today. It was a giant serpent of blood and bone.” The other man shrugged, “It breathed a glowing red smoke that killed everyone it touched. I don’t know what else to call it. We’re lucky we made it out at all. Or very unlucky. It’s only been two days since the darkness came.” He grimaced, “I never thought I’d live to see the end of the world.”
Two days? What the hell could do this in two days? The assassin kept his musings to himself for the moment. The thoughts of his companions were still very much back at the river, “Who was Silver?”
“A Hero.” Katerei replied solemnly. Radik only nodded. They would not speak of their loss with a stranger. The woman was clearly the leader but she wore that mantle uncomfortably. It was not a position of her choosing so a sense of duty to her companions must have forced her to accept it.
The dry breath of the forest and the squelching of their boots were the only things to be heard for a long time. And so a new sound, an eerie clacking, raised his hackles more than a scream. As the shadows melted off the trees ahead he saw the source. Unsettling gashes big enough to fit a man yawned open in many trees. They were lined with cruel tooth-like barbs and oozed the white fluid he saw before. Abruptly one snapped shut with a clack and slowly pried itself open again. The clacking came from many trees as the group moved passed, an angry chittering that came out of the black all around them, “What happened to the trees?” Seralcard asked.
“Those aren’t trees, not anymore. Stay away from them.” Radik instructed.
“They’re not fast but the white sap is venom. Touch that and you’re paralyzed, good as dead. They don’t have to be quick if you can’t move. They’ll drag you into one of their mouths and eat you slowly. I’ve seen it happen.” He looked back the way they came, “I’ve seen a lot of terrible things.”
The advance through the forest was slow, cautious, and thankfully uneventful. Seralcard learned that this was likely Silver’s doing. After saving his friends he used the last of his strength to cut off pursuit by making the river virtually impassable. What sort of man was he? the assassin wondered. In his work he met few truly selfless people. Katerei and Radik would say little on the subject. His three other companions Bellum, Celt, and Wallace had known the adventurer for only a day.
The party reached a clearing lit by half a dozen bonfires set around a modest home. Seralcard saw open sky for the first time since Nightmare sent him into the forest but the black starless expanse only placed him more on edge. Radik sheathed his blade, “It doesn’t look like the others made it out of Odemia.”
“They just haven’t made it here yet.” Katerei corrected firmly, “Let’s get inside.”
A man in full white armor came to the door. What caught Seralcard’s eye was not how powerfully and strangely the armor was enchanted. Nor was it the way its glowing runes seemed to dance across its surface. What stuck him first was the fact that the man’s right arm was missing at the shoulder and how trickles of blood leaked from each of the suit’s joints, “You have returned.” The man said with a strength he didn’t seem to have, “But where are the others?”
“What are you doing out here!?” Katerei demanded.
“No.” she cut him off and hustled him back inside. The group followed her in, “Without my healing you would have died and that armor is the only thing keeping you alive. It’s amazing that you can even stand.” The larger man kept struggling to get a word in but Katerei rode roughshod over him and forced him to lie down.
There were perhaps a dozen other adventurers and warriors who greeted them inside. Wallace, Bellum, and Celt were received warmly, Radik respectfully, and Seralcard was largely ignored. But the men were looked around for other familiar faces. The party was far smaller than the one that first set out.
A very old man seated in the middle of the room chuckled tiredly, “You should listen to your doctor Talos. Though you do have a point. What is the situation in Odemia?”
“There is no Odemia.” Katerei said quietly. She sat down with the old man and told everyone of their failed journey.
Many hearts had sank by the time the tale was over, not the least of which was the old man’s, “First Selax, then Avatara.” Katerei flinched at the mere mention of that name, “and now Silverfish.” The old man looked even more ancient in his sadness, “Did you see the others? Beorn, Shanadar, Yomu?”
“No Wizard.” Katerei replied sadly, “There was too much chaos in Odemia. We had to run our separate ways.” Wizard? The names they said brushed across his memory. Even the old man’s face, though far more haggard than when he’d last seen it, was also familiar. And then it hit him. Almost all were renowned heroes, the greatest since Bellerophon, and in disguise he had seen a few of them before.
“Who is our new friend?” Wizard regarded the assassin.
Radik spoke up, “We met him on his way to Odemia, just after Silver…” he shook his head, “I thought he should come with us.”
“A wise decision.” The old mage conceded, “We will need all the help we can… ugh…” he closed his eyes and put his hands to his temples. There were dark bags under his eyes and he was barely steady in his seat.
“Are you alright?” Katerei asked gently.
“Y-yes.” He managed, “It is just fatigue. I am not as young as I once was.” He sat up a little straighter as if he recovered some of his vigor.
“You need some rest.” The healer insisted.
Wizard waved away her concern, not unkindly, “I cannot and you know that. I regret not going along with all of you. Searching the area for friends and danger is the least I can do.”
She put a hand on his shoulder, “You’ve been at this for two days without sleep. We would all be dead if not for you. Let us keep watch for a while so you can regain your strength.”
He wore a grandfatherly smile, “That is very kind. I wish I could rest as you say.” Wizard sighed, “But I can feel the creatures out there tugging at my mind. Hundreds of them, thousands, I cannot count them all. They are an ocean of madness and all of them are connected. The deception I am using is difficult and must be maintained. If the trees know we are here then all of those monsters will soon enough.”
“Does it matter?” Radik asked no one in particular, “Avatara was the one who knew how to stop all this. Now that he’s gone…”
“We must not give up hope.” Wizard said sagely. He looked to the door, “We have more visitors coming.
The door opened and two injured men shambled in dragging a third between them, “Beorn, Shanadar!” Katerei exclaimed. Then her gaze found the third man and the room was gripped by a shocked silence. His skin was pale from loss of blood, which continued to drip onto the floor from a claw wound to his chest. He looked up with eyes of the darkest blue. When his eyes settled on Katerei he laughed. Radik was closest to her when she lunged forward. He caught her around the waist and jerked her back. There was a dagger in her hand she seemed to conjure from thin air, “How could you bring him here?!” she yelled angrily.
Shanadar looked abashed. He leaned on his metal staff and clutched a wound at his side. Beorn did the talking, “We need you to heal Galahad. He has information that can help us.”
Radik had released Katerei but seemed ready to jump in again if necessary. No one in the room seemed happy to see the man but her eyes burned with pure hatred, “Heal him? He’s half responsible for all of this. It’s his fault Avatara died! I should let him bleed to death on the floor.”
No one rushed to protest her decision. Galahad chuckled to himself, “You are right of course. I am a fool who was betrayed and is getting what he deserves. But more than seeing me dead you want to kill the man who actually murdered your friend. And for that you will need my help.”
“Rythan.” Katerei said darkly, “But it’s too late for Avatara’s plan to work.”
“There might still be time.” Beorn said, “But it will only work if we know where Rythan’s portal is. Galahad knows—“
“But my life is the only currency you have to bargain for that information.” He broke down in a fit of coughing and spat a glob of blood onto the floor, “Save me and I will show you the way.”
“This could be a trap.” Radik cautioned.
“What choice do we have?” Beorn shot back.
In the end it would be Katerei’s decision. She glared at the man for a long moment, “Lay him on the floor.” Beorn and Shanadar did as commanded, just as grateful to be free of his weight as they were to the healer. She knelt beside him and poured water over his wound. Seeing it clearly the assassin knew the beast that struck him had to be terribly strong. Katerei worked her hands over the water as it took on a faint glow. Her brows furrowed with concentration, “What did this?” she asked.
“Rythan. I confronted him in Odemia before the city fell. He handled me like I was a child.”
“What about the daemons you commanded?”
He laughed mirthlessly, “His creatures made short work of mine. Everything is just meat to them, daemon or no.”
Seralcard spoke to Radik, “Who is this Rythan?”
The warrior’s fists clenched, “A monster. I’ve never seen anything like him. Two days ago Selax confronted him in the Judge’s castle in Cademia. I still don’t know what happened but Rythan got him just before we made it there. Avatara had a plan to take him down but Galahad showed up out of nowhere with an army of daemons. They wreaked the plan and half the castle with it. The group got split and thrown off balance. Avatara tried to save Kat from Galahad and wound up facing Rythan alone.
“Talos over there,” he gestured to the man in white armor, “is one of the strongest fighters I’ve ever seen. He helped us cut down Galahad’s daemons left and right. When Avatara went down Talos tried to avenge him in a one on one. Got his sword arm torn off for his trouble. Everything fell apart after that, if not for Wizard none of us would have gotten out alive. The darkness came soon after that and brought the monsters with it.”
Katerei hung her head, “The wound is too deep and you’ve lost too much blood. I can’t save you.”
Galahad smiled as though he knew that was what she would say, “My uncle was right after all.”
“If you tell us where to find him I swear to you I’ll see him dead.” The healer pleaded.
“Keep your oaths woman.” Galahad answered, “You would just go and die. I thought you would have a chance if I came along but without me you will never beat him.”
Beorn reached down and grabbed the man by the collar, “We are not playing games. Our world depends on this.”
“And why should I care about your world?”
Beorn grunted in disgust and let go, “Wizard, can you probe his mind for an answer?”
The old mage shook his head slowly, “I doubt I could even stand for very long now. I do not have the strength left to overcome his will.”
“Just accept your fates.” Galahad said tiredly, “I am doing you all a favor by not letting you rush to your deaths. Cherish what time you have left…” He trailed off as he saw Seralcard, his eyes wide in recognition, “You! I thought Rythan...” the swordsman burst into laughter, “Of course. You are the Other. Maybe, just maybe, you have a chance.” He struggled to stand on his own and removed his sword belt and handed it over.
Seralcard accepted the black hilted weapon. The blade was masterfully crafted. It was glossy obsidian with glowing red runes shifting on its surface. It looked surprisingly like Talos’s armor. Most surprising though was its edge. The sword was as blunt as a practice blade, “Why give me your sword?”
“I am just returning it to you.” Galahad said with a cryptic grin, “Land King’s Hall. You will find Rythan and his portal where you took his eye.”
Katerei looked at them both strangely, “Why would you—“ An inhuman cry rose from outside followed by another and another. It was a screaming tide beating against their sanctuary. The color drained from the healer’s face, “They found us.”
Wizard slumped in his seat with sweat beading on his brow. His voice was strained from his mental efforts, “I did not feel them until now and I cannot turn them away. Something is leading them to us. I have never sensed anything like this.” Katerei moved to him, “Never mind me child. They are surrounding us, you must protect the fires. I will do what I can to slow their advance.”
Seralcard held out the sword he had been given, “Won’t you need this?”
Galahad looked at him with a small smile, “What would I do with it now?” he glanced around a picked up a discarded short-sword, “This will serve just as well.”
“As you wish.” The assassin belted the sword around his waist. It was lighter than it seemed. Men were already rushing outside. Talos was on his feet and out the door before anyone thought to stop him. Wizard and Galahad remained within but Seralcard followed the others back into the night.
The approaching horde grew quieter with every moment passed until silence reigned over the field. Even the droning trees held their breath in anticipation. The gathered adventurers shifted nervously as they faced an unbroken ebon wall beyond the firelight. Fires crackled and popped. Metal clattered together. Leather creaked as men altered their grips.
Something misshapen skittered out of the shadows. Like an insect the size of a child. The thing hissed with a dozen mouths as its broken form came into view. Its six pointed legs were fractured bones jutting out of its ragged flesh. It was eyeless and covered in bleeding wound-like holes filled with jagged teeth. It was a predator crafted by a mad god. He must have hated it almost as much as the things he sent it to hunt. The sight of the thing made Seralcard uneasy, “What is that?”
Radik unsheathed his claymore, “That’s what attacked us at the river. A whole swarm of them.”
“How did you kill them?”
“We didn’t,” Radik said gravely, “Silver did.”
The monster sucked in air through its many teeth, tasted it, and loosed a chilling shriek. A hundred more sprinted out of the darkness like a swarm of massive locusts. Radik’s crushed one beneath his sword and kicked another as it leapt to him. His massive blade smashed the monsters to gory bits. Shanadar wove an expert defense with his staff. The weapon blurred in his hands as he knocked the monsters away with a heavy metal crack that shattered their twisted bones. Warriors of lesser skill fell as they were overrun. A creature jumped onto Bellum’s back and dug in with claws and teeth. As he fell screaming more piled onto him and gorged on his flesh.
Seralcard hacked at the beasts with his seemingly useless sword. The blade sucked magic out of the air in every swing and formed its own edge. The monsters fell away from him in pieces as he prowled the field. Talos was covered in the horrors, but however much they bit and clawed they could not pierce his armor. He stomped them beneath his boots and crushed them in his gauntleted fist roaring back at them in the heat of battle.
From the corner of his eye the assassin caught a fan of blue that sent several creatures into the flames. Katerei danced amid the carnage with razor whips of water tearing through the monsters around her. As quickly as it began the battle started to die down. Monsters ran or limped back into the shadows. Victory came at a price. They left half of the adventurers dead and most of those stripped to the bone. Horribly mauled or torn to pieces the creatures that could not leave were still alive. They hissed angrily as their bodies started to rapidly heal, knitting bone and reattaching severed tissue, and they too began to slowly crawl away. Even those that burned twitched pathetically as they struggled to be free of the fire, “What does it take to kill these things?”
“You can’t.” Beorn answered, “None of the creatures we’ve seen can die. You can only hurt them enough so they can chase you for a while. We’ll have to head out sooner than I expected.”
An enormous figure lumbered out of the shadows. It was a headless mockery of the human form twice as tall as any man and spotted with massive armored plates. The behemoth flexed vicious claws as it stared down the adventurers with a single crimson eye. Thick cords of muscle lined its body, red and slick as though it were flayed. A second appeared beside it and then a third, “By the gods.” Someone gasped breathlessly. More of the huge monsters started marching out of the black with a second wave of the smaller beasts sprinting passed them.
A dozen warriors charged the larger threats. The first of the monsters ripped two men in half with a swipe of its claws. The other behemoths cut down the remaining force like so much wheat. Talos rushed to meet the first and was slammed into the ground by its bloody claws. The beast’s chest split open to reveal a monstrous set of jaws with immense fangs in place of ribs. Shanadar staff whirled in his fight against the smaller creatures. Another behemoth opened its mouth and lashed out like a frog with its tongue. He noticed just in time and deflected it. The impact knocked him off balance and the tendril stabbed into the ground like a harpoon of bone.
Radik and Seralcard went back to back as they were surrounded by the smaller creatures. They hacked at the beasts until the ground was sticky with mud and they were ringed by a knee high pile of convulsing bodies. New creatures heedlessly charged over the injured. “There’s no end to them.” Radik growled as he sliced another in half.
Gripped in a behemoth’s mighty fangs Talos freed his left arm thrust his hand into the monster’s eye. The creature groaned and toppled back with a crash. Its mouth opened to release the warrior. As soon as his feet hit the ground he raced to the next giant. Two of the other behemoths were overwhelmed by warriors Beorn commanded in battle. More than half of the monsters were down. A sword in one hand and a torch in the other Beorn rallied the surviving warriors to route what beasts that still stood. For a moment there was still hope.
It did not last. A woman descended from the sky on raven wings and stood before Talos. She had scarlet eyes and skin carved out of the surrounding darkness. Beautiful and terrible she was a faceless goddess. She had the silhouette of a perfect woman like the featureless shadow of an angel. When her wings unfurled the fires shrank into themselves in fear. The other beasts grew still in her presence. Talos would not be cowed so easily as that. He lunged at her. She caught his fist with a graceful gesture and placed her other hand on his helmet. He struggled in her grasp. The runes of his armor flashed erratically almost too bright to look upon. He screamed long and loud as his armor went dark and the bonfires closest to him died off.
The monsters renewed their attack with terrible ferocity, “Fall back to the house!” Beorn commanded over the sounds of battle, “Argh!” One of the smaller beasts latched onto his leg and he dropped to a knee. He tried to stand but another leapt onto his chest and knocked him back. More of the creatures swarmed over him before he could cry for help. His fledging unit panicked and broke ranks as soon as he fell and were quickly slaughtered in the confusion.
Katerei and Radik made it inside first. A barbed tongue shot out the darkness passed Seralcard and impaled Shanadar as he reached the door. With a savage yank he was pulled out of sight. The assassin slammed the door closed for what little protection it would buy them. Wizard was arguing with the healer, “I cannot come with you. Not if you would have any hope to survive.”
“Don’t speak that way!” she admonished, “You can make it.” A tear trailed down her cheek.
He patted her hand affectionately, “You have skills in the healing arts, you know what I say is true. Thank you for being concerned for me at the end.” He looked out the window. The dark angel stepped out of the shadows for just a moment before the last of the fires in front of the house died. She would be inside very soon, “That is the creature I felt. The one that led the others here. You can still save this world but you have to escape her and survive first. The three of you must go. Go now.” He finished sternly.
Visibly conflicted Katerei hugged him and headed for the back without giving herself time to dwell on her loss. Radik shook his hand firmly and went after her. Seralcard stayed for a few seconds longer. For enough time to give Wizard a respectful nod and hear Galahad’s last words, “That sword is my vengeance enchanter. When you run that through Rythan’s black heart he will know who it was he crossed.” The swordsman wore a cocky smile despite standing at death’s door. Galahad turned to the mage, “Now old man. Let us make this demon regret ever being spawned.”
If more was said Seralcard did not hear. He ran out the back door and met with the other two. Radik held a torch and Seralcard’s charm shined brightly. They sprinted away from the house. The group reached the furthest fires when a blinding light made them look back. With a massive roar the building erupted in storm of fire and light. A wave of force slammed into them, sending them flying back. All of the fires on the field guttered out at once and Radik’s torch was killed in the blast.
Seralcard gasped for air and climbed to his feet shakily. Beside him Katerei did the same. Radik lay still on the ground. A jagged log had run him through in the blast. Only the assassin’s small pool of light stood between them and the darkness. Katerei shuddered, “They’re all gone. Everyone.”
Seralcard clasped her shoulders, “I’m still here. I will not leave you. We will survive this together and we will end it for all your friend’s sakes.” He didn’t know how much those words would mean coming from a stranger. If they would mean anything at all.
The healer looked at him for what seemed like a long time before nodding her understanding, “You’re right.” Her voice was a shaken as he felt. Every sound around them died away. They stood alone on an island of blood red grass about to be swallowed by an ocean darkness. As quiet as it was Seralcard knew the monsters were creeping closer from all sides. He could feel it in his soul and the knowing turned his blood to ice, “We can make it together.” Katerei said with more strength, as much for her own benefit as for his. She offered her hand. Seralcard raised his to accept when Nightmare started to glow, “What is that?”
“Oh no…” he breathed. The crackling energy enveloped him as he met her startled gaze, “Take this!” he tore the light charm from his neck and the world disappeared…
Seralcard appeared just outside of Catamartica and his light charm fell from his hand to the dusty road. The assassin dropped to his knees, “I’m sorry.” He whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
Now you know my story and the terrible fate you must avoid at any cost. Heed my words and seek the heroes of Cythera. Seek Avatara, for among all of them I believe only he will learn what must be done before it is too late. Warn them of the monster that is Rythan.
An enchanted scroll lay on the cabin’s lone desk. Its spell compelled any who saw it to read. Beside the scroll a mound of sparkling powder marked where the flawed Null stone had shattered. The breeze through the open window scattered the dust on the wind. And somewhere, some when , its maker struggled on.
The forest north of Kosha
Katerei gazed blankly up at the patch of sky that was visible directly above her, the circle of blue bordered by green treetops. Her arms hung limply at her sides, looking as useless as she felt. She was only vaguely aware of how her companions watched her, Shanadar looking concerned and Yomu inscrutable. In the still air of the forest and the silence that stretched on painfully, the only sound was their breathing.
"So where do we go from here?" Yomu asked in a bleak voice when the silence had grown unbearable.
With a weary sigh that shuddered through her body, Katerei finally lowered her eyes and turned to look at him, as if remembering that he was there. Her words were empty. "I don't know."
"We could try following the more recent path-" Shanadar began, but Katerei cut him off.
"Wherever we go, I'm not leading," she said hollowly. "I have no idea if we've even been following Rapierian. I could be leading us straight into danger."
"I think if it was a trap, we'd have found it already," Shanadar pointed out, but he didn't press the issue.
Yomu glanced at the Enforcer. "I know you feel you're obligated to catch Rapierian," he said, "but realistically I think we have to accept that we won't be able to. Not like this. We're all exhausted and he's evaded us for this long already. Our chances won't exactly improve with time."
Shanadar didn't like to admit defeat, especially when they had been so close to having Rapierian locked up for good - he wistfully recalled seeing the necromancer behind bars in Kosha - but he knew Yomu was right. Without a way to track Rapierian's path, their odds dropped to virtually nil. "We should regroup with the others at Land King Hall then. Maybe they've had more luck with Alaric." He looked inquiringly at the others, receiving a nod of assent from Yomu.
Katerei made no response, but went ahead and cast Direct Nexus. When nothing happened, she pursed her lips imperceptibly and tried again. "It's not working," she said testily, and flicked her wrist somewhat more sharply than intended. An arc of water shot through the air and broke against a tree trunk. "My water magic is fine though. Direct Nexus itself must have gone faulty."
"That's not a good sign," Yomu muttered.
Shanadar frowned with worry. "Something must have gone wrong within the last day - I hope that doesn't mean Alaric has gotten worse. It worked fine for the others just last night."
"...did it?" Katerei asked with a sense of dread. "All we know is that they disappeared..." The three companions looked at each other fearfully, wondering about the possible consequences of that statement.
"It sounds like we'll have to travel non-magically," Yomu said. "We should be about two days from Cademia; perhaps that should be our destination instead. It doesn't seem like we'd be able to do much back in Kosha."
"Agreed," Shanadar said. His gaze flickered briefly to Katerei, but she seemed not to want to be responsible for any decision-making. "We can't do much else until we have a better idea of what all this means, and Cademia will be the best place to get info. Let's hope we hear some good news there."
This post has been edited by iKaterei : 30 July 2009 - 03:12 PM
As I understand it, Selax and the others have been following Devlin who is now dead. I'm not certain whether you have any plans for what they find, Ragnar0k, so I'm assuming that they find nothing for the moment. If I am incorrect, please inform me and I'll edit this post accordingly.
The eighth day
Selax and the others carefully continued forward down the trail as they had been doing for two days. Around them, the forest seemed to have become distorted, almost twisted into a nightmare. The effects of some dark magic were plainly obvious.
Abruptly, the trail they followed vanished. Stopping short in surprise, Talos began to carefully examine the ground. The others also began to look around.
After two hours of searching, they had found nothing. There was no trace of the trail, the man who had made it, or of anything that might explain how he had vanished.
"This is most disturbing," Wizard murmured.
"Very much," Talos replied, looking disturbed. "I think that our man might have met his end here."
"What makes you say that?" Silver asked, having come down closer.
"I don't know, just a feeling. It just seems strange that we'd be led so far to this place and then find nothing. There's not even any evidence of an ambush."
"Whatever the case, there's no sign of him or of anything else," Selax stated.
"Maybe he meant to lead us away from Kosha," Wizard mused.
"But why?" Silver interjected.
"I'm not certain," Wizard replied, frowning. "At any rate, I don't think we can afford to start second guessing ourselves now.
"So, what now?" Talos asked, turning to face the others. "Should we keep searching or move on?"
"I think we should press for Cademia," Wizard answered. "We have found nothing so far. At Cademia, we can at least give a warning and possibly hear news. We need to find the others and tell them of these developments."
"Agreed," Selax said. "We can also learn what has become of Rapierian. He may possibly have had something to do with this."
With that, the group began to head north toward Cademia.