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RE: When Heroes Fail

 
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12/13/2016 21:59:24   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


Strasna tried, but failed to keep the smile from her face at Hendrik’s words. Part of her knew that she was acting like a fool, but the rest of her did not care. It had been a long, long time since anyone had treated the exile as a person. Before her fall she had been the Paladin, and that had required… a certain distance between herself and those around her. After… Well, after her fall she had been a pariah, and it was hardly likely that anyone in the regions around Palora would treat her as aught else due to her Blight, to say nothing of the fact she had been charged with Palora’s protection.


The pirate called her captain, called her comrade, and it felt... good. Good enough for her to ignore that little voice in the back of her mind that warned her she should be wary of trusting the elf. He was Blighted, the same as she was. He did not get that way due to being in possession of a pure and trustworthy nature. Perhaps she was lying to herself, but Strasna quieted that voice, pushed it away, telling herself that they were both Blighted, and that was reason enough for them to stick together.


Shaking her head slightly, the outlaw tried to pull her wandering thoughts back to the task at hand. Coloring a little when she realized that she had simply been staring at Hendrik, Strasna brushed a flustered hand through her hair, smearing her glove with oil and ash, the swiping hand revealing another band of copper fire. Grimacing in distaste, she wiped her hand on her cloak, wishing vainly for some way to wash the accursed dye from her hair. At this point, it hardly mattered if she appeared recognizable. It was not as though there was anyone here to recognize her.


Gathering her wits, the slender swordswoman looked back at the pirate. “We should be close now.” In honesty, Strasna had no idea if that was the case or not. The Spear could be in the next chamber, or there might be half a dozen more, for all she knew. This was as far, farther really, into the complex as she had ever been, loath though she was to admit it to the others. “Let’s get moving.” The exile stepped carefully through the piled carcasses and discarded weapons, moving around Beauty’s throne and towards the door set into the back wall of the sepulchre.


Thankfully, the hall beyond was nowhere near so long and arduous as the descent to reach the chamber they had just exited. The passage continued its downward slope as the light from the ossuary receded, leaving them with but the light of their torch as the cavern peeled open once more.


This chamber was about as large as Beauty’s charnel house has been, though its details were only seen dimly in the flickering torch’s glow. Before them the floor dropped away, lost in darkness below and leaving the Blighted standing on a semi-circular promontory thrust out over the abyss. From the platform a stone bridge just wide enough for two people arched gracefully to another island of stone, a circular platform at the center of the chamber. Three more identical bridges arched out at right angles from the central island, reaching semi-circular landings set against the walls of the chamber.


Frowning, Strasna ventured forward carefully, unconcerned by the fact there was no rail to guard against what would surely be a fatal fall from any of the bridges. The central island was larger than the others, and for some reason had a trio of levers in its center, made of some old and corroded metal that the exile could not immediately identify. There was a lever just at the end of the bridge she had crossed from the entrance of the chamber, along with another to her left, and one to her right. Ignoring the mysterious devices for a moment, the slender swordswoman continued towards the bridge towards the back of the chamber, only to stop suddenly.


After a moment of paralysis the fallen Paladin darted forward. “It’s here. It’s here!” She fairly flew over the slender bridge, darting to the platform at the back of the room. There, against the back wall of the chamber, was a disturbingly familiar display case. In fact, it appeared to be an exact duplicate of the case in the Temple of Baan. Though perhaps it was better to say the case in the Temple was a copy of this case. The thought was disturbing.


But not so disturbing as the sight of what was in the case itself. The outlaw’s hands curled into fists, coming down hard on the unyielding case’s edge. “It… It’s broken.” And so it was, for within the case, resting on a red silk pillow, were the fragments of Agemon’s shattered Spear.




“Who am I?” The strange figure chuckled, one hand rising, splaying across his chest in what could be taken for outrageous disbelief. “Who am I?” He laughed, roaring with mirth as though Raelin’s question was the funniest thing he had ever heard.


The mirth vanished as soon as it arrived, the man’s voice lowering to a threatening snarl. “I am one to deny you your passage. I am one grind your corpse into the dust. I am one feared across your sorry, diminished city, and I will not be disrespected by one such as you.


And then the menace was gone, a smile returning to the disturbing blue eyes as the man’s posture relaxed. “But come now, there is no reason for us to be… unreasonable.” His disturbing giggle echoed through the small space again. “Take heart, your prey is close at hand! Why, the Quisling skulks and sulks but two rooms from this very place.” Lambent orbs darted from Raelin to her companions. “But not alone,” he chuckled, “so it is good you have your own companions, yes? It should be so sad for one so noble to meet so ignoble end in a moment of… fatal surprise. Mm, but here I am, all a-ramble. And surely what you need is terms. Terms… Yes, yes, terms.” The man stroked a hand along his chin, baring his teeth in a smile. “I will let you pass on one condition. You see, within the next room is a throne, and in the back of the throne is a gem. I require but a simple service. Remove stone from throne, and leave it upon the seat before you leave. What could be simpler? Surely it is an easy price to meet.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 126
1/12/2017 0:04:50   
Ryu Viranesh
Member

There had been little time to think. The beast was bearing down on her cousin, had nearly torn open her throat before a scrap of luck - Illyra’s favor, no doubt - bought her a few precious seconds. Hardly enough time to formulate a plan, but enough to rush the creature and draw its attention away from Strasna until her cousin was able to gather herself.

As the young woman closed the distance and brought her cudgel to bear, she felt a familiar sensation wash over her. That rapt anticipation of bloodshed, a faint yet undeniably pleasurable tingle rushing down her spine... and something else underneath. Something that she hadn’t felt in years. Somehow, amid all of this absurdity and gloom, she almost felt… normal again.

“Get away from her!”

Jana heard her battle cry echo back at her from the depths of the sepulchre, the girl’s grip on her club tightening at exactly the instant it crashed into the creature’s neck. The impact split the air with an audible crack, and then the former Saint shoved the monster forward with a grunt of effort, sending it sprawling to the ground. Rather than rush or retreat, she chose instead to cautiously circle around its fallen form while sliding her cudgel into a defensive position. Jana’s patience was rewarded mere moments later when the monstrosity lurched to its feet, turning its claws on her as a high pitched shriek emerged from its throat. She couldn’t help it this time: she grinned. Bring it on, Birdface.

The warrior woman waited until it was nearly upon her before she struck, bringing her cudgel sweeping across to knock the rightmost claw off its mark. The remaining strike she caught on her arm, the beast’s talons shredding through the steel-plated leather as though it were mere parchment, though they were slowed to a crawl on the blackened ridges of the scales dotting her limb. Jana winced nonetheless, as no amount of reinforcement would be able to totally block out the pain, but followed through with a swing of her forearm that brought her club smashing into the monster’s beak.

The creature let out another screech as it stumbled away from her, head hanging low to the ground as the amazon advanced. Follow through, don’t let it get away. As though in response to that very thought, Strasna suddenly slipped past her, bringing an axe around for a slice at its hindquarters. That strike seemed to drive the beast wild, one of its claws lashing out at its latest attacker. Jana took advantage of that momentary distraction and rushed the creature, sparing a momentary glance for her cousin’s safety before she drove her club hard into the monster’s lower back... knocking it right into Strasna’s riposte. Caught between them, the creature could do nothing but retreat, whereupon it suddenly collapsed to the floor, gouts of fire flowing freely from its maw. It tried desperately to rise, but was denied that right by the pirate, his projectile hobbling the horror for good.

She turned away as her cousin moved to finish off the monstrosity, the beast’s pathetic state sapping the last of the will to fight from her. Is that how Palora sees us? The young woman’s brow furrowed before she shook her head to banish the notion; this wasn’t the time. Instead, Jana gave the room its first proper once over, taking noting of both the second corpse on the floor, probably the pirate’s opponent, and the throne across the way. She cast a look back over her shoulder, frowning slightly at the spectacle before she sighed and made to approach the throne.

There was little remarkable about the seat at first glance; it seemed to have been carved straight from a larger block of stone, its edges later sanded down to make it more ‘comfortable’ for its occupants. Still, why put a throne in these catacombs at all? It wasn’t as though the place was the seat of some kind of royalty. The girl reached out and brushed a hand against one of the arms, leaning forward and peering at the back of the chair. The back… Jana’s gaze flicked to the shadows behind the throne, rising and starting to skirt around the seat. She was brought up short by the sound of departing footsteps, a quick glance confirming that both her cousin and the pirate were moving on. The girl seemed torn for a moment, but ultimately turned and set off after the pair; they couldn’t be left alone. Besides, she’d have time to sate her curiosity on the way back, so for now she’d just have to be patient.

*****

The sound of boots on stone jolted him awake, his eyes blinking rapidly as he struggled to clear them of the last remnants of unconsciousness. He froze when he heard a key rattling inside the lock, a dull creak all the warning he had before his world was suffused with light. The footsteps approached him, stopping what he judged to a hand's length away; too close to run, even if he could, and too far to attack. Though he couldn’t see them, he could somehow tell that the visitor was observing him, sizing him up like a pig ready to be sent to the slaughterhouse. He gulped. Then from out of the darkness came a voice, its normally sharp tone laced with a sardonic amusement.

“You must have had quite the night, eh Private?”

Relief rushed through Akro’s form, replaced thereafter by a jittery uneasiness as he struggled to manage a salute with one of his unsteady hands. “A-ah no, I mean yes, Lieutenant Sykes, sir.” He was hoarse, his throat burning for water or some other kind of liquid relief.

It took a few more seconds before the Lieutenant’s face resolved itself, the man peering down at him with a grim smile. “At ease, soldier,” he began, his eyes snapping briefly to the Private’s legs. “Can you stand?”

The young man grimaced, but made an effort to move his legs, some feeling returning after the effort. “I think so, sir. Though I might have some trouble, err, actually getting up.” The Lieutenant rolled his eyes and leaned down to grasp one of Akro’s hands, pulling the Private to his feet and steadying him as he regained his balance. “That’s it. Now, what happened here, Private? Last I left you two you were guarding the prisoner.”

A rush of images assaulted Akro’s mind: the claw reaching through the bars; Corporal Graham tumbling forward as they rushed in to help; a shadowy figure with a hand clenched around his throat, squeezing harder and harder until… The Private nearly jumped out of his skin as he felt a hand settle on his shoulder, eyes darting frantically in Sykes’ direction.

“It’s all right. Calm down, Akro. Let’s just grab Graham and get you two to the infirmary - we’ll talk later.” The Lieutenant gently took him by the hand - were his hands always so sweaty? - and led him over to where the Corporal lay on the ground. It was a struggle, but Sykes managed to haul the half-naked man off of the floor, and with Akro’s help, started to drag him toward the infirmary.

Graham regained consciousness when they were about halfway there, casting a series of unfocused glances around the hall before he started muttering feverishly about demons and witches. Though much of the trip blended together, Akro did recall the Lieutenant attempting to engage the disoriented Corporal, feeding into his madness and asking him questions about the things he was saying. It wasn’t until they were nearly there that a light flickered on in the Private’s head, glancing over at Sykes with new appreciation. He thinks Graham has a concussion; he’s trying to keep him awake.

As they arrived at the medical wing they were swarmed by attendants, a small cluster of bodies surrounding Akro and pulling him away from Graham, who no longer needed his support. Though his consciousness had started to fade once again, he was convinced that he saw the Lieutenant slip out of the room, a satisfied smile gracing his face.

*

Sykes strode swiftly through the halls of the barracks, the stern look in his eyes dissuading any of their other occupants from approaching him. I should have known better. Though he was certainly no slouch with a blade, he hadn’t been promoted to Captain Magro’s second because of his combat ability. No, he’d been selected because of his intuition. Sykes was gifted with a preternaturally savvy set of instincts; the little, niggling feelings that frequently invaded his head were rarely ever wrong and had saved their company from disaster numerous times in the past. But not tonight, of course.

The Lieutenant practically threw open the door to the common room, stalking over to where he’d left his gear.

“What’s got your tabard tied in a bow, sir?”

Sykes froze, forestalling the curse that was on the tip of his tongue and instead taking a deep breath before he turned to face her. “Soldiers that seem to need some re-education on why, exactly, it’s important to follow proper procedures. You’d be familiar with that, wouldn’t you Ensign Lynch?”

The girl grinned, flicking a stray lock of her blonde hair away from her face. “You know there’s no need to use titles with me, Noah.” The amusement vanished from her face, replaced by a glare as steady as a statue. “So, what’s actually going on?” Alice Lynch was… an annoyance, but a useful one. Third in command of Magro’s company, she served as their primary scout, capable of slipping behind and back over enemy lines as though they were just a city street. She stood at a diminutive 5’1”, though was worth every bit of a 6’2” brawler in a fight; her skill with a scimitar was renowned throughout the guard.

“Prisoner escaped - tricked her guards into opening her cell and then she overpowered them.”

Alice let out a low whistle, pushing herself to her feet and flipping up the hood of her cloak. “She was the one with the broken arm, right? Must be strong as an ox to have managed that. I’m assuming you want me to track her down?”

“If it’s not too much trouble, yes that would be lovely.” Sykes paused to belt an arming sword to his hip. “Girl’s tall, just shy of 6 feet, and built like a suit of plate armor. Bright red head of hair that’s usually tied up, probably walked out of here wearing a Corporal’s uniform, and… this is just a hunch, but probably had a large polearm strapped to her back.”

The Ensign snorted. “I’ll take it as a definite then. If she’s still in this city, I’ll have her location for you by dawn. You want me to engage or…” She trailed off, eyeing the mantle he was throwing over his shoulders. “You going somewhere?”

“To join Magro’s hunt. Someone has to warn him that there’s a dangerous escapee out there that might want revenge, and since you’re busy, it’ll have to be me. And just find her; will probably be easier to subdue her with some backup, not that I don’t trust your cutting arm.”

“As well you should.” The girl paused at the door, casting a look back over her shoulder, her face obscured by the hood. “Be careful out there, Lieutenant.”

Sykes spared her a glance, his expression softening before he muttered back. “You too, Ensign.” As the door clicked shut behind her, he couldn’t help but hope that the excess caution would be unnecessary.

*****

The trek to the bottom of the crypt was time-consuming, but nowhere near as physically demanding as Jana would have expected. The most difficult obstacle to contend with had been the absence of light, and truth be told, she’d been far more comfortable in the dark over the past decade. In the darkness, there was no one that could point out the Blight on her arm; no one who could judge her for what she was or what she’d done. Of course, it was only recently that she’d realized it also meant people couldn’t discern anything about her at all. To forget about the bad, she had to likewise wash away any of the good she’d done. Without either of those, could she even be called a person anymore?

The young woman was shaken from her reverie by her cousin’s sudden exclamation, dashing forward behind her as a grin worked its way onto her face. This was it - what they’d traveled all this way to acquire. The Spear of-

“It… It’s broken.”

Strasna’s words cut into her like a knife, a fiery surge of anger rising only to be swallowed by an ice cold calm. The rage was still there, buried beneath the surface, but rather than rant and rave, Jana chose to express herself more eloquently.

“That lying, Blight-ridden cur.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 127
1/21/2017 0:18:51   
Apocalypse
Member

In the silence, Hendrik stole a glance at Cendra. He bit his bottom lip to hide the surprise at her reaction. She was...smiling. Not the enticing sparkle of a street strumpet but an honest one. The sunrise a waiting maiden gifts to her groom-to-be upon his entry to the room. His brow furrowed for a heartbeat as he tried to reconcile the sight. This fickle creature with such…raw emotions was the once-Paladin scorned by all of Palora?

As the swordswoman smiled and brushed away another streak of dye from her hair, Hendrik felt the corners of his own mouth twitch. Perhaps Cendra was the hardened warrior he had been expecting, but even the toughest armor was shed when danger was not afoot. Cendra and Hendrik had both carried their Blights for about a decade now; a decade filled with hatred, degradation, and isolation. The elf had managed to be within certain unsavory circles, but only as either a liar or a weapon. These were roles he had played as a scourge and had now taken as his life. For someone who had no experience with either to be driven into becoming a lie...Hendrik could only imagine. The pirate closed his eyes and let out a soft exhale.

She would be...entertaining.

Cendra set off, forcing the elf to tear away from his thoughts. Twice he had to disentangle himself from the remnants of previous trespassers. This was rather a good omen; every failed thief was an increase to the value of the treasure stowed away. Kicking a bit of bone from his foot, the pirate whistled a jolly tune as he sauntered with the captain into the next chamber.

It was quite the change of pace. After the room filled with dead, it was like passing into the eye of the storm. A bridge passed to a center platform with three more arches branching off to other areas of the room. Below them was an abyss from which return was unlikely. Hendrik strolled towards the middle platform after his two comrades. Cendra’s jubilation soured into despair, her cry being joined by the warrior woman’s resentment. The elf clicked his tongue as he stepped up to the levers.

“Not much of thieves, are you?” the scourge called out as a hand caressed the lever to his left. Old, corrosive...a bit like himself in a way. “We’ve already seen one fake tonight. Why not another?” Fingers tightened, and the lever was wrenched down.

***

Ullr flicked his eyes back from the Magister to his captain. Backing down was not a viable option with the death of Gron Tahir and the Spear of Agemon at stake. Removing the gem would be a trifling task, but...this was at the behest of the Magister, a puppeteer with strings strewn all across the city. Bound by no rules or law, his plan were known to none.

Ullr glanced a quick look at Sylvana with one message in mind: tread carefully.

*
Aendi stood, blades at the ready. The unsheathing had been an almost involuntary reaction to the stranger’s display of power. Magister or not, this man was dangerous. The once-assassin sized up the stranger, eyes lingering on those sapphire blots piercing out from under his hood. Magic seemed to be his forte, but a hidden blade was often the end to a careless assailant. If Aendi was quick enough, then he would be felled before being able to act. Her thumbs traced small ovals over the pommels. If called upon, she would strike swiftly and without mercy. Her teeth grit in her mouth. If called upon, the Saint would strike.

She just had no delusions of killing this one.

*

“So all you ask...is for a gem to be moved onto a chair?” The redundant question bought her a few moments to consider, though Sylvana was afraid she already knew her answer. Sylvana swallowed, praying to Baan that the Magister could not hear her heartbeat.

When in doubt, match the adversary.

Sylvana hefted her halberd across her shoulders. Her stance slacked as she drummed a couple fingers across the pole. If the Magister wanted a fight, he would have already had one. If the captain displayed weakness, he would pounce upon it. What better way to show no fear than to get comfortable?

Iron in face if not heart.

Her head swayed left and right as if debating it, her eyes glossing over the ceiling. Had not the Magister been there, Sylvana would have laughed at how casual she was before her Saints. Now she was trying to will sweat not to seep across her brow.

One last deep breath before it was over. Only time would prove if this were to be the single greatest mistake of her life. “I, Captain Sylvana Raelin, accept your condition.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 128
1/22/2017 19:36:30   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


The Magister’s grin might have been at home on the face of a fiend, and his lambent eyes sparkled at Raelin’s answer. “Then we have an accord. And is there anything sweeter in all the world?” Pivoting to one side, the cowled figure bowed with over-elaborate courtesy, waving the trio of Saints down the passage towards the charnel house beyond.



Strasna stared down at the shattered spear, trying to wrap her mind around what she was seeing.

It was the Spear.

It had to be the Spear. Else why these protections, these traps, this whole horrible subterranean nightmare? The fallen Paladin closed her eyes, shaking her head minutely as her cousin’s voice reached her. Strasna could appreciate the sentiment. Were the Magister here, she was more than certain it would be a great pleasure to drive her rapier through his guts, feel hot blood flow over her hand, watch the freakish light drain from his disturbing eyes… The exile gripped the edge of the case surreptitiously, knuckles white from the strength of her grasp as she fought down the black surge of rage.

Breathe. The slender swordswoman drew in a deep breath, letting it out in a long, slow exhalation as she tried to let the anger go.

Never in anger. Never in hate. You swore, girl. A second breath flowed through her, lips forming an old familiar prayer, a supplication for Ilyra’s mercy. The outlaw pushed aside the smug, icy voice that asked what mercy she deserved. Had there been mercy for any she had encountered this night? The Saints, the acolyte in the temple, Tahir. What mercy could be awarded to the merciless?

She shook her head again slowly. Think. The Magister may have been a cur, and as treacherous as the Blighted were said to be, but Strasna had known the Spear was down here. Or at least, that the “Spear” in the Temple of Baan was a fake, and the true Spear was supposed to be down here. Her eyes opened slowly, and she drew in another breath, sharper this time as she whispered. “The Book of the Wyrm.”

Strasna glanced down at the Spear, nestled on its silken bed, shattered into so many useless fragments. Turning away, the fallen Paladin’s blue eyes moved to Jana and, perhaps to her cousin’s surprise, Strasna smiled as she repeated herself, louder than her previous whisper. “The Book of the Wyrm.”

Her gaze moved to Hendrick, the smirk growing as certainty took root. “No, we are not much as thieves. But you were not there. The Magister holds The Book of the Wyrm. The wyrm cultists have always said The Book of Agemon was filled with lies. He read a passage from the book, an alternative telling of the Battle of the Acolyte and Wyrm. It said that Agemon’s Spear was broken in the combat. This must-”

The elven pirate interrupted her next words by jerking the left-hand lever down. For a moment the rusted lever stubbornly refused to move, and then gave with a screech of tortured metal. Nothing seemed to happen, until the chamber echoed with the sound of grinding gears and a metal cover slid hissed over the Spear-case’s glass, hiding it from view.

Strasna frowned, glancing around. There was no further action from the now shrouded case. The exile crossed the narrow span to the central island, where Hendrik stood near the levers. Reaching out, she closed her hand around the center lever, and with a grunt tugged it back. A resounding crash echoed through the chamber as a heavy slab of metal fell from the ceiling, slamming down over the entry to the room and sealing the Blighted trio inside.

Taking a slow breath, Strasna glanced at the pirate, and then her cousin. “A trap.” The statement was obvious, perhaps unnecessary. “But I see no choice but to spring it.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 129
2/8/2017 21:26:23   
Ryu Viranesh
Member

There was a strong temptation to say more. To launch into a tirade that would strip the Magister of whatever courtesy she still afforded him and reduce that freak to little more than mud in her eyes. Instead, her lips stilled, the girl’s fists clenched tightly shut as she forcibly swallowed her remaining rancor like the bitter pill that it was. None of this makes any sense. Jana sharply sucked in a breath, her eyes drifting closed as she turned her attention inward. No, it really didn’t. Why would the Magister bother to go through the trouble of getting her here if he intended this venture to fail?

The easy answer was that the magus was truly as insane as he seemed; a man so caught up in his own delusions that he was treating all of this as a game. Meaning that all of the pieces were expendable. Jana frowned and shook her head. Chances were that he probably did view them in such a manner, but he didn’t seem the type to discard things that he could still wring some use out of. The staff. It all comes back to the staff. The Magister could have sent her to Strasna without imposing that request on her, but he’d even spent the time to describe exactly what the artifact looked like. He intended her to find it, which meant that he couldn’t have intentionally led them to a dead end. Yet for all the sense that made, the Spear was still broken.

Things just weren’t adding up.

Jana huffed as she opened her eyes, just in time to catch the look that her cousin was shooting her. The manic glare was one thing, but the smile set her back on her heels; the amazon’s left hand shifted in the direction of her cudgel, images of decade old, but never forgotten spars flashing through her mind. Jana’s shoulders slackened only after the woman started to speak, an eyebrow rising up in their stead. The Book? What about the… oh! It came to her just as Strasna brought Hendrik up to speed, the intuition managing to weld the disparate pieces of her theory together. The Magister hadn’t betrayed them. He had led them to exactly what they were meant to find. That left just one question: what were they supposed to do with a broken spear?

The sudden mechanical clamor tabled that thought for later. She’d seen the pirate tugging at one of the levers back on the main island, so it wasn’t difficult to make the connection between those two events. Fortunately, the only discernable change seemed to be that the Spear was now sealed inside its case. Unfortunately, it’s what we came here for. Jana thought drily, leaning forward to take a closer look at the cover. Looks pretty solid, but maybe if I- The girl winced as the second boom reached her ears, her expression more than a little cross as she turned to face her companions, eyeing the slab that now blocked their escape. A trap. Of course. Jana held out for another moment and sighed, stalking back towards the central island.

“When in Palora…” she muttered, reaching over to grasp the rightmost lever and give it a nice firm yank. The mechanism fought her at first, but quickly gave way beneath the strength of her arm, mechanics screeching as the bar depressed into place.

The effect was immediate: the sound of unspooling chains, accompanied by an almost deafening scrape, began to emanate from somewhere in the shadows above. A series of gigantic stones seemed to cascade out of the darkness, plunging into the abyss that separated the leftmost islands. Moments later, the sight was mirrored to their right, another clutch of boulders vanishing into the ether as the chains that hung down on the left began to retract. Weights, her mind belatedly interjected. These stones were a set of enormous weights. Unlike most weights, however, they never seemed to come into balance; the leftmost grouping soared out of the pit and into the ceiling before beginning their descent once more, their right-leaning counterparts now on the rise.

Jana settled her left hand on her cudgel, swallowing audibly as the slabs continued their unusual dance. Silence, broken only by the alternating crashes and a faint mechanical hum. The girl tightened her grasp on her weapon, eyes scanning the area quadrant by quadrant. They’d definitely triggered the trap, so where was it?

*****

“That was almost too easy.” Alice remarked, the only response a faint whistle from the nighttime breeze as she descended the barracks steps. It had become obvious fairly quickly that her target probably hadn’t been expecting anyone to come after her; no less than five Saints had been able to provide detailed descriptions of the woman, down to the color of her eyes and the shape of her nose. They’d all agreed she was wounded, and one had even seen her heading off to north as she departed the barracks. No, whoever the woman was, she was not used to dealing with the ranging corps. All the better for me.

The girl pulled her cloak more tightly around her as she stalked off into the night, as concerned with being seen as much as she was with the chill. It was something of a game amongst the stealth units, to see if they could remain discreet even in the midst of official business. Even though she was no longer a member of her old cell, Alice still availed herself of the game whenever she could. It kept her in touch with old friends; got her useful information that she probably wasn’t supposed to have; and, to be totally honest, she just found it to be downright fun.

Her trip to the northern district proceeded smoothly enough; there were no signs that she had been seen and, perhaps more fortunately, she hadn’t run across any of the hunting parties that were roving around tonight. Alice pursed her lips, turning off of the main thoroughfare and onto a nearby sidestreet. Had Noah tracked down Captain Magro yet? Their company wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the trade quarter, which meant that they probably didn’t have to worry about running into the prisoner. If they found the Quisling though… she shook her head, the envisaged images of Paladin Tahir’s death fleeing to the back of her mind. No, both of them could take care of themselves, even if they did run across the Quisling.

The girl paused, gaze roaming across the street. After a few moments she nodded to herself and crossed back onto the main road; it was possible that her target had taken that side path for a time, but if her goal was to get out of the city then she’d have to merge back onto the main drag somewhere. What the tracker needed now was information, or rather an informant. Someone who’d be out at this hour of the morning - and had been for a while. Weren’t there usually some stands that set up before the sun came out, so that they could catch the- there! Alice grinned and made a beeline for the food vendor, his cart set just far enough off the road that it wasn’t easily visible in the predawn light.

A flash of her badge, and a couple of coins pressed into his palm, was all that it took to get the man talking, and soon enough she knew precisely what alley her little runaway had slipped into. She gave the narrow passageway a thorough search, going so far as to root through the trash that littered its edges, but couldn’t turn up a single clue to where the woman had gone from here. And yet, something stopped her from leaving. She wasn’t certain at first, but the longer she remained the more Alice became convinced: magic had been used here. Her keen senses were the primary reason she’d been enrolled in the ranging program in the first place, but she had an extra advantage over many of her peers. An extra sense.

She gave a quick glance to either side and then slowly reached inside her cloak, withdrawing a small, tightly sealed sack. Alice took her time as she loosened the drawstring, simultaneously working to pinpoint the location where the outpouring of power felt the strongest. Once she stood over the spot, the girl carefully turned the pouch on its side over her remaining hand, a startlingly white, sand-like substance starting to pool in her palm. After returning the sack to its proper place, she held out her hand and then abruptly overturned it, the dust seeming to scatter on the breeze. That is, until its central contingent froze in place.

The sand flared a bright blue, the color staining the grains as they began their slow descent to the ground below. They settled in a rough oval, wide enough for two people to stand in, a faint cloud of azure air rising from the dust. Alice remained still, eyeing the spot until the color bled out of it, a ring of ash all that remained. She couldn’t be sure, but it was likely that her target had met with a mage - since she certainly hadn’t been one - and then been teleported elsewhere. After another few moments she turned on her heel and strode away, the wind picking up in her wake. That meant that this trail had run cold, but she wasn’t off the hunt just yet. Whenever magic was involved, it was often helpful to track things back to their source. And the source of this mess was the burned-out shell of the Third Burning.

A figure bumped into her as she exited the alley, the force of the impact spinning her to the side. Alice started to protest, then froze, taking a good long look at what she was now facing. It was a large, many-paned window, one plane of which happened to be facing the vendor she’d spoken to earlier. It had probably given whoever was watching a pretty good look at her badge as well. The girl clicked her tongue and shook her head, thrusting her hands into her pockets and creeping down the street, trying her best to look normal. The most important thing to know about the game was that it never really ended. A loss was fleeting, but a win you could brag about for weeks.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 130
2/23/2017 22:19:07   
Apocalypse
Member

Trapped.

Sealed off from their treasure.

And swimming in a myriad of lies and heresy that may hold the truth.

The warrior woman wrenched the final lever, and the screech of metal resounded throughout the chamber. Hendrik dropped to a crouch, hand flying to the pommel of his cutlass as shadows descended from the ceiling. Stormy eyes scrutinized the surroundings as the elf pivoted a fully circle in his stance. Gargantuan chunks of stone attached to chains fell into the the abyss only to be hurled skyward once more. Their counterparts on the other side of the platform mirrored the inverse of their motion. "Don't suppose that wyrm book said anything about giant chained rocks?" His gaze followed one of the sets as it rose up to a slow, almost hypnotic standstill before plunging back down into the darkness below. A bead of sweat dripped down his brow as the scourge racked his brain for the meaning behind it. If the trap had meant to kill them, it would have just dropped the rocks upon them; with little maneuverability on the platforms and the element of surprise, the trio would have been crushed. The air hummed as the boulders rushed past on either side. His heart ticked faster with each plunge and rise. The display was too elaborate to be a distraction. The wind from the next rapid descent rippled his vest and sent cool air across his bare chest. Hendrik took a sharp inhale at the sudden chill. He shook his head as he lost his thought. Did that damn humming have to get louder?

Wait.

"The rocks aren't the trap!" The elf's shout echoed throughout the chamber. "They're powering it!" Metal and stone hurtled past again, reaching new heights and depths with each swing. Eyes darted back and forth across the chamber's contents. "We need to find what..." His gaze fell upon the sealed case. A chill ran down Hendrik's spine. He put an arm out, catching Cendra by the midriff to push her back and place himself between the captain and the trap. "Stay aw-"

The next words were lost as light burst forth from the case's edges. Heat and illumination washed over Hendrik, his hand rising too slow to stop it. As quick as it had appeared, the flare vanished. He turned his neck to glance at his companions as the boulders rocketed past. Before he could speak, the blast emanated from the case once more in sync with the stones. His arm warded off the blow from his face, but the metal cuffs were hot against his skin. He could feel the beginnings of blisters beneath the iron.

The scourge scowled and ripped one of the strips of cloth from his arm and spoke the elven incantation. Cooling the case to crack it had been his intent, but Hendrik watched with wide eyes as a stream of slick, black, and highly flammable oil jetted from his palm and the heat's source.

***


Chnnk. Chnnk.

Pommel to pommel, the Owl struck one of Aendi’s daggers against the other. The blade scraped against the gemstone with each blow, slowly but surely working it from the back of the throne. Each tick of the monotonous beat pushed her heart further into her throat.

“Captain, Sylvana, please,” Ullr said, approaching the throne. He untangled his foot from the banner of some long fallen soldier. A new whiff of death filled her nostrils. “The weight thrust upon you is immeasurable. I cannot begin nor will pretend to understand the magnitude upon your shoulders.” Raelin did not look up, instead allowing the steady sound of bladework to answer for her. “But think - this is a command from the Magister. You must know that this is no fleeting fancy of his.”

“Of course, but we have been gifted passage to chase the Quisling. Renege on our promise, and we risk losing her.” Sylvana’s tongue felt heavy and unnatural in her mouth. She swallowed hard. “There is no other option.”

She could see Ullr open his mouth to say something as the bright topaz popped out and landed in her palm. Instead, the veteran sighed as his captain circled the throne with the fist-sized gem. “So be it.”

The throne sat in front of her, her arm raised above. Such an easy thing, to let something fall. But today, her hand seemed to resist as her fingers opened one by one to release the gemstone.

May Baan forgive me.

Sylvana closed her eyes and glass shattered. She opened them to see her Saints - her Flock - glanced about the chamber for the source. The Owl did not partake as she strode over and handed Aendi back her knives. “Come, we have not the time to dwell in this place.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 131
3/2/2017 22:42:17   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


He stood, waiting.

Each quiet impact of metal to stone sent a shudder through the cowled figure, as though the noise was an inexpressible ecstasy or an unendurable agony. Perhaps it was some queer mix of both.

Amid the stench of carrion rot a new scent arose, though only one of the truly initiated might have smelt that aroma. It was the effervescent smell of magic. Old magic, deep magic, the sort of magic that was rare these days. This was a spell from the Before, and each clinking blow, blade biting grooves into yielding stone, was like slivers driven beneath his nails.

By all the gods, he had never felt more alive. And then he felt the spell shatter, snapping like rotten ice, and the Magister threw back his head and howled, the noise all feral hunger and need. The sound faded away into the creature’s strangely disturbing titter. “Thank you, my darlings. Thank you.



Sylvana’s flock moved down the hall, the light fading away as they moved step by step deeper into the shadows. Their torch became a globe of light about them, pushing back the dark that swallowed them as they moved deeper into the earth. A great crash echoed up the throat of the tunnel, strangely reminiscent of a gate slamming closed. It must have been some impact, for the group walked on and did not find the barrier for another minute more.

When they did, they found a great pitted slab of metal wedged across the cavern mouth. Strange and muffled noises were coming through the entryway, a great clattering and clashing, and a deep rumbling whose vibrations could be felt even through the tunnel walls around them. There was also a strange, atonal humming, a steadily rising and dying off drone just at the edge of hearing, it was enough to make one’s hair stand on end. Whatever was happening in the sealed chamber, it must have been tremendously loud in there.



Strasna twitched as Jana jerked the final lever down, massive weights falling from the ceiling; a seemingly endless chain followed, cascading into the depths as the stones fell further and further. A second set of weights rattled down, descending into the other abyss. But the first set of stone and chain constructs rose, winching back to the ceiling and slamming into some manner of stop with enough force to rattle the exile’s bones. What on… The weights were falling again. It was… It was some sort of system, a machine. There was a growing electric hum in the air, a staticky feeling of building pressure. The second set of weights roared back up towards the roof of the cavern, crashing home before descending once more. “No,” the outlaw replied distractedly, “nothing about falling rocks.”

The interplay of the weights was interesting, but that humming drone was maddening and-

She gasped as she was grabbed from behind, a hand going for her sword reflexively. Hendrik wrenched her backwards, thrusting himself between the slender swordswoman and the Spearcase as the weights rammed into the stops on the ceiling. This time, however, the grinding rumble of stone meeting leather and metal was lost beneath the fury of a furnace’s roar. Light radiated from the Spearcase, shining from every chink and crevice. The midnight darkness of the chamber turned momentarily into a dazzling dawn, flooding out the feeble illumination of the Blighted’s torch. With the light came heat, a blast of searing wind that rippled through Strasna’s short locks like the breath of some massive beast. After a moment the light faded and the subterranean chill struggled back against the hot wind. “What… What just…”

Strasna’s question was swallowed by the next blast as the second set of weights reached the roof of the cavern and there was another burst of dazzling light and heat. What manner of machine was this infernal contraption? What was it doing?

The elven pirate turned his wrist, aiming a hand in the direction of the Spearcase, and then it clicked. They call it the Spearforge. The Spear’s Forge. “Hendrik, no!” But it was too late. A torrent of oil-slick water was flying over the slender bridge, coating the Spearcase just as the weights reached the ceiling. Water sizzled instantly into steam, but the oil took flame with the basso scream of an inferno being born.

-Brightlight. Warmsight.-

Whirling, the exile drew her blade, looking around. There had been a… It could not have been a voice. The cacophony within the chamber was simply too loud for her to have heard it. The voice, her mind insisted it was a voice, for all that it sent a shiver of revulsion down her spine, seemed to come from… everywhere.

-Ripbite. Clawlight.- Strasna winced, the not-voice scraping over her consciousness like nails grating on glass.

The left-hand set of weights sailed up and something tumbled off it. “That… that’s not possible.” The fallen Paladin whispered, staring in shock. The creature uncurled, silver-orb eyes scrunched up against the light of the pyre burning on the Spearcase. It was a stunted thing; its head came up to Strasna’s waist, though a leathery crest over its long-snouted face gave the illusion it was slightly taller. That snout was filled with fangs beneath eyes of solid silver, devoid of pupil or iris. The thing had a gangling appearance despite its short stature, featuring long limbs tipped by wicked claws. The nightmare was completed by a mottled, scaly hide. “A kobold.” No one had seen a kobold in Palora since the time of the Wyrm.

Opening its fanged maw the creature hissed, lunging at the outlaw. Even in her state of shock Strasna reacted swiftly, sidestepping and spearing the growling monster through the back with her blade. -Clawclash. Broodslash.- The exile kicked the dead kobold over the edge and into the pit as the second set of weights rose. A half-dozen kobolds leapt from the weights and landed on the bridge between the central island and the metal-sealed exit.

With a chill, Strasna remembered an old Paloran riddle. What do you call a pack of kobolds?

A devastation.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 132
3/23/2017 1:17:41   
Apocalypse
Member

With the case aflame, light flickered throughout the chamber and the boulders continued their rhythmic motion. As one of the stones flew past, a short yet lanky figure fell onto their platform. Silver eyes gleamed above reptilian fangs. Before Hendrik could scrutinize more of its form, Cendra skewered it and sent it toppling down into the abyss. The elf brandished his cutlass in one hand and hefted his boarding axe in the other. Right, Hendrik thought as he lowered his center of balance. Captain kills 'em, I kill 'em. Good enough for now. The scourge readied his blade to make short work of the next lizard that reared its ugly head...

...and had to pivot towards the bridge where no less than six had scrambled upon. Eyes of pure silver shimmering in the dark, Hendrik did one of the few things he knew how to do.

He acted.

The first had coiled back to pounce. It cried out in a hideous howl as the cutlass ripped scales from its shoulder and sundered the flesh beneath. The second lurched forward with surprising speed. It caught an axe to the chest as the pirate spun on his feet, using the momentum of the initial swung to fuel the second. The blow sent it careening off the edge and back to the depths from whence it came. A third scrambled past its injured packmate, its jowls hanging open and saliva dripping from its fangs. The elf retreated back a pace, just enough to give the creature enough confidence to dart forward. In that same instant, Hendrik bounded forward, twisting his body in the air with his arms outstretched. The cutlass cut a gash across its snout. The axe ripped a hole in the side of its throat. It clutched and clawed at its own wound as its life flowed forth. Light on his feet, Hendrik flitted back until he stood on the edge of the platform connected to the bridge. The scourge raised his blades and waited for the remaining lizards to make their approach. His heart pounded in his chest, pumping the familiar warmth through him. The elf failed to hide a smile.

Though that smile faded as two of the creatures turned on one of their own.

The dying one was set upon by the pair behind it. Claws and fangs ripped it apart, peeling back scales to expose the flesh and blood. The one Hendrik had injured first approached with some hesitation. Hesitation well-founded as the two snapped at it with bits of bleeding tissue dangling from their jaws. The injured one hissed back before approaching the center platform. The fourth creature followed suit. Hendrik darted his eyes to the passing stone weight, watching for more of these cruel abominations to join the fray.
No loyalty, no sense of kin. Only a desperation fueled by hunger or hate.

Or, gods help them, fueled by both.


***

Steel. A hulking wall of steel now blocked the Saints’ path. Sylvana halted, gripping her halberd tight as she gazed over the construct. There was no discernable door, nor any lever or hatch she could perceive. But it was no dead end, not with the dull screeching emanating from behind the other side. The captain let out a breath, not realizing she had been holding it. This was it. Just beyond that door was…

“Ullr,” the Owl said, the iron call of command filling her voice. “The wall. Find out what’s on the other side.” What we will be up against . “Aendi. Locate our entrance. If there is one.

As the two set forward, Ullr with only a nod and Aendi not even that, Sylvana turned back to the way they had come. If they caught the Quisling here, now, then whatever price she had paid the Magister would be worth it.

Wouldn’t it?
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 133
4/5/2017 23:01:14   
Ryu Viranesh
Member

The fun came to an end long before she saw the Third Burning, all of the signs visible from blocks away. Citizens roused from their slumber stood in the streets, heads craned toward the rising pillar of smoke while their noses wrinkled at the acrid odor. A handful, mostly men, broke away from these gaggling groupings, rushing off in the direction of the danger. Alice nimbly fell into step behind them, ignoring the glances thrown her way as she allowed the samaritans to cut her a path through the crowd. Those were nothing new; when you were barely bigger than a child but knew how to make a grown man cry, you got used to getting weird looks. It was part and parcel of the deal.

Their pace picked up dramatically once they were free of the spectators; Alice held her position at the back of the disjointed formation as it moved toward the smog with an undaunted determination. None of her companions seemed to take notice of the knots of writhing shadows illuminated against the sides of nearby buildings. In their haste, they didn’t even seem to recognize the doleful baying of the fire brigade’s horn. If they had, they might have been more prepared for the devastation that awaited them around the next corner.

The Third Burning had become a pyre fitting of its name; the entire building was engulfed in a blaze which threatened to turn the street into a warzone. The brigade seemed to be doing an admirable job at containing the fire, quickly quashing any sparks that leapt off of the burning building. Alice turned her attention skyward, taking a moment to watch the eddies of smoke drift off into the heavens. The inn was a lost cause, but the rest of the block could be saved.

Not without cost, though. The Saint thought grimly, her gaze falling to the two rows of bodies which lay in state beneath a nearby tarpaulin. She wasn’t certain whether the guards had met their end in the fire or in the fight that had surely preceded it, but they deserved to be honored either way. Any Saint who fell in the line of duty deserved at least that. First, though, there was business that needed to be attended to.

Alice spared a glance for the men that had accompanied her and, content that they weren’t about to do anything stupid, weaved her way through the steadily growing crowd to the perimeter. The thug they’d put on guard-duty shot her an irritated look, midway through opening his mouth to dismiss her when she shoved her badge in his face. He blinked, eyes slowly shifting between the emblem and her diminutive form as his brow furrowed; Alice glared right back, her look daring him to deny her passage. The tough broke first, grunting as he waved her through, his beady gaze still on her back as she strode confidently over the boundary.

After that confrontation, none of the fire brigade seemed particularly eager to ask what she was doing there. Alice ignored the eyes that followed her as she walked up to the burning building, pacing the structure until she was able to slip into the alley to its right. The flames were practically close enough to touch, the heat causing beads of sweat to slither down her skin. Still, this was what she’d come here to see: the scene of the initial conflict with the Quisling’s group of Blighted.

The alleyway certainly looked the part. There were jagged holes torn into the earth paralleled by a scorch mark so dark that the ash had to be mixed with blood. Even without her sixth sense, it would be obvious that a significant amount of power had been let loose here. Either way, let’s see what else I can learn. Alice withdrew the sack of ‘sand’, pouring a healthy handful of the substance into her palm before she cinched the bag shut. Unlike last time, she spread her bounty around, shrouding the alley in a white-tinged haze before she stepped back to watch it do its work.

The air practically exploded with color, bright sea-green enmeshed with dark, woody brown and a sickly yellow run through with black. No, on second thought the green seemed off as well; an oily stain was hidden beneath its glittering surface. Must be the Blight. Never seen what it does to magic before. Fascinating though that may be, none of the auras here matched the one she’d found back in the trade district. Alice bit her lower lip and frowned, eyes roaming over the space for any sign of the distinctive blue hue. What caught her attention was not the dust, however, but the flames above it, the fire steadily consuming more and more of the inn. The girl inhaled sharply, incredulity plain on her face as she shook her head and walked straight through the multi-colored mist. She stopped just before reaching the Third Burning’s outer wall, her eyes flicking over to one of the nearby broken windows.

Maybe…

Alice poured out another pile of sand, casting a cautious glance back at the alley’s mouth before she pulled her arm back and winged the grains into the fire. A couple of moments passed, during which she began to feel more than a little stupid for even attempting this. Then the window flared blue, the same otherworldly azure that had lit up the night to the north. The girl let out a sigh of relief, unable to resist a little chuckle as she turned to depart, the colors fading in her wake.

*****

Mason leaned back against the stone wall of the tomb, his spear held gingerly between his arms as he fumbled for his canteen. He must have done something to tick off Captain Magro, because here he was searching a sodding graveyard, in the middle of the night. The Saint grumbled and took a deep gulp of the ale, both wishing that it was wine and that he was back home, not prowling through a spookyard in the wee hours of the morning.

“Least I can get away with taking it easy,” he muttered, sparing a quick glance to his left and right to ensure that Magro’s watchful eyes were not upon him. The soldier let out a little laugh, raising his flask back to his lips. Magro might be many things, but omnipresent he was not.

“I’m sure the Captain would appreciate that, Trooper Lee.”

Mason spit the alcohol onto the cobblestones below, spear tumbling from his grasp as he stumbled away from the tomb. Only when he caught sight of the intruder did his antics cease, a foul expression on his face as he forced a salute. “I’m sure he would, Lieutenant Sykes, sir.”

The Lieutenant had a small smile on his face as he stepped away from the tomb’s leftmost wall, returning the salute with an almost irritating degree of flippancy. “You might want to pick up your spear, Trooper,” he gestured at the fallen weapon, “since I have a feeling you’ll need it tonight.”

“Dealing with skeletons and ghosts, sir?” Mason bent down and retrieved the pike, lazily flipping it into a defensive position.

“If only.” The amusement drained from the man’s face, his stony expression sobering the young soldier enough that he stood a little straighter. “I need you to take me to Captain Magro. I’ve got some information that I’m certain he’ll want to hear.”

Mason froze, weighing the risk of disobeying the Lieutenant’s orders against the tongue lashing he’d receive from Magro if this wasn’t worth his time. Ultimately, he nodded and motioned for Sykes to follow him. “Right this way, Lieutenant.” He spun on his heel and started to retrace his steps, trying to work out where in the night’s planned route the Captain might be. It would be almost maddening to find him, but at the very least it would get him out of this damn graveyard.

*****

Jana jumped as the chamber flared with sudden illumination, the glare retreating to an earthy luminescence as the pirate’s surge of water set the Spearcase ablaze. She could hear the heavy breaths she was taking, blinking the spots from her eyes as she struggled to regain control. Everything was okay; she was a Saint, and she could handle so much more than a little light-show. She’d slain bandits, tracked bears back to their den, and even engaged in battle with that thing in the previous cavern. Not even Sykes or the Magister had been able to break her. None of those things, however, were kobolds.

Like most children that had grown up in Palora, she’d been told tales of the grubby little mongrels. How they were the harbingers of Vermonox’s coming, and that even in the wake of the wyrm’s fall, a few of the creatures were still out there. Waiting for a child to wander off alone so that they could steal them away and devour them whole. Jana had long ago dismissed those stories for what she thought they were. Legends, fairy tales. Scary stories meant to frighten little kids so that they wouldn’t step out of line. Seeing living, breathing examples of the monsters brought all of those tales rushing back, slowing her approach as she observed the gremlins with wide eyes.

The former Saint saw her cousin and the pirate engage the creatures, the seaman easily taking the upper hand against his grouping of kobolds. So much so that they decided to switch sides and devour their own.

-Longnight. Goresight-

The words echoed inside her mind, a sibilant whisper born from the deepest corners of her psyche. Jana withdrew her cudgel from its holster, her pace quickening to a near run.

-Fillbite. Gnawright-

Her weapon collided with the head of the nearest kobold, collapsing its skull and sending its wiry body flying off of the platform. No more words skittered around in her head, and the creature let out no scream as it plunged to its doom. The other monster that had been feeding let out a fricative hiss, using the body of its fallen comrade to launch itself at her face. Jana was ready, batting the strike aside with her cudgel and spinning to kick the little lizard in the ribs. Then there was a sudden weight on her arm, overbalancing her and forcing the weapon from her grasp.

When she twisted back around, the former Saint found one of the other kobolds attempting to devour her cudgel, teeth over an inch deep in the reinforced club. At that moment, the leftmost weights shot past, and ten more of the monsters landed on the opposite side of the rostrum. Jana glanced between the two groupings, shrugging her uninjured shoulder before she turned and strode toward the new arrivals.

“Strasna,” she said over the clamor, “you and your boyfriend can handle this side. I’ve got that one.”

Jana grinned at the creatures, flexing the fingers of her free hand. She felt the weight start to drain from her legs as her left arm began to engorge; the scales along her forearm hardened and spread, her fingertips thinning to a fell-looking set of claws. Let’s do this.

-Bloodright. Allmight-

One instant there was space between them, the next Jana was thrusting her nails into the throat of the leading kobold, blood spurting across her armor. The young woman casually tossed the corpse off to the side as the rest of the devastation closed on her.

-Farsmite. Deadfight-
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 134
4/23/2017 19:16:06   
Kellehendros
Eternal Wanderer


Merkia stared at the bodies. Two rows of corpses laying in the street, cloak-covered and waiting for the cart that would haul them off to the undertaker and their final journey. Illyra’s Supplicant stared at the bodies. Blood seeped from wounds hidden beneath sodden cloth, ran in slow courses between the cobbles to form incarnadine canals. She stared at the bodies and tried to convince herself that she had done the right thing. But she was failing.

My wayward daughter… Strasna had always been swift. In thought and word and deed she had moved fast, struck hard, and shown no hesitation. Merkia had done all that she could to slow Strasna’s swiftness, to make the woman think before she acted. But everything had been undone in a moment of that flashing fury for which her erstwhile pupil had become so infamous.

This was Strasna’s work. Hers and her companions. And mine as well. Brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers, daughters, mothers, sons. These men and women had left their barracks this morning, little suspecting that the shadow of Death was looming across their lives, closing with each heartbeat. That spectral hand had reached out and gathered them in, and it was her fault.

She felt old, looking down at the bodies. Their neat double line was a silent testament to her hubris. The Supplicant had thought that she could contain this, set Raelin and her hunters onto the trail of her banished daughter and thereby spare them both more heartache.

Perhaps she had spared herself the pain; she had saved herself the anguish of hearing the bells ring. She would not have to listen to the criers on the street corners calling the Saints to arms. There would be no need to witness the streets being searched house by house, to watch families roused in the gloaming light and questioned, to witness Strasna run down in the street like a dog. Quick and clean, the way she would have done it herself. Merkia bowed her head. The hands that had held the blades, the mouths that had chanted the spells, those had belonged to Strasna and her Blighted. But the Supplicant knew those deaths were upon her head.

***

Alice had almost stepped out of the alley when it caught her eye; though the smoldering embers attracted her attention, it was the charred fingers extending skyward that impelled her to approach. The mudhole had seemed pretty nasty from afar, but up close it was obvious that the pit was a deathtrap. The snared Saint had been desperate to escape, the fire pushing him to strive for a freedom that the ensorcelled earth would never allow him to reach. There were still a few brush blazes burning even now, crawling over his skin and staining it like ink on parchment.

The diminutive Saint spared a glance for what remained of the ‘mud’. Once tacky and viscous, the sludge had hardened into a spider’s web of different strands, all of which pooled together in the semisolid muck at its victim’s feet. Disgusting, but probably no longer able to trap her as it had this poor sod. Alice released the clasp on her cloak, taking the garment in hand as she started down the side of the pit.

The heavy cloth used to weave the guard’s uniforms proved to be excellent for smothering fires, at least when they were this small. Soon there were none left to fight, only a smattering of scorch marks revealing that they had ever existed at all. Alice wiped the sweat from her forehead and approached the body, settling the singed mantle around her shoulders as she fell to a crouch. No time to go and grab a rescue crew. Looks like I’ll have to pull him loose. She grunted and looped her arms around his legs, ensuring that her grasp was nice and tight before she shoved upward with all her might. At first nothing happened, but after a few seconds of solid effort, the ooze’s hold started to loosen. One moment the corpse was suspended in place, the next Alice was tossing him over her shoulder as the fingers of hardened soil snapped beneath the strain.

Breath rushed from between her lips, followed swiftly by a growl as she forced her way back up and out of the mire. This one was going to be put to rest with his brothers and sisters, and that was that.

***

“The flames are under control, Supplicant.” Merkia looked up, drawn out of her dreary reverie by the voice of a sooty Saint who had come to a halt just behind her. She half turned towards the man, taking in the sergeant’s emblem worked into his stained tunic and tiredly noting several holes singed into the woolen garment by cinders from the blaze. “Ma’am,” the sergeant inquired after the Supplicant made no reply to his report, “is something wrong?”

Too many things to count. But Merkia held those words inside, turning her gaze from the Saint to the charred husk of the tavern. “See that the proprietor is sent to the exchequer at the temple of Illyra.”

“Ma’am?” The sergeant was young, perhaps newly raised to his post. He asked the not-question with all the curiosity of youth, and then colored furiously when he realized just who it was he was questioning.

The Supplicant managed a wan smile, though it was not so reassuring as it might have been. “Illyra’s temple will see to restitution for the damages to the inn.” She lifted a hand and shook her head gently, forestalling another question. “See to it, sergeant. Illyra’s blessings on you.”

Thankfully the dismissal sent the man scurrying off to do his duty, leaving Merkia alone with the dead. She took one last look at the wreckage of the inn, and then turned back to the double row of corpses. The Supplicant folded her hands before herself, and then opened them in a slow and spreading gesture, holding her hands open as in offering as she began to pray.

***

Surprisingly, the trek grew easier as time went on. Once she left the sloping walls of the mudhole behind, Alice’s pace picked up dramatically, back straightening as she allowed her arms to support more of the corpse’s weight. Pretty heavy guy. He was probably the butt of some jokes when he was a kid. The Saint grinned through the strain, each step more sure than the last. She could do this. The rows of bodies were visible from the mouth of the alleyway; just a little bit further.

The Ensign’s expression fell when she caught sight of Merkia, her countenance shifting to a long-practiced grimace. It wouldn’t do to be seen smiling in such a dismal situation, particularly in front of the Supplicant. Alice wasn’t particularly happy anyway, so why not look the part? As she drew closer to the woman, it became increasingly obvious that the Supplicant was lost in her own world. Probably praying for the fallen. Something that she should do herself, come to think of it.

Ignoring the looks many of the other Saints were giving her, Alice walked right past Merkia and set the body down at the end of the topmost line. After a moment’s thought, she whipped her cloak from her shoulders and drew it over the corpse, setting her hands in her lap as she closed her eyes and murmured a familiar litany. One which all Saints were taught before they became troopers: Illyra’s Prayer for the Fallen.

Merkia’s eyes opened at the sound of someone approaching; it was a woman in the uniform of a Saint, burdened down by the weight of another corpse. The Supplicant’s hands fell to her sides and the whispered words slipped out before she could stop them. “Another body for the pile…” She looked at the Saint as the woman draped her own cloak over the fallen man and knelt beside him, murmuring familiar words. “Did you know him?”

Though the words reached her ears, Alice remained quiet after she completed her prayer, staring down at the mantle-shrouded body for another couple of moments. “No. I’d never met him before.” She started slowly. “He was one of us though. Couldn’t let him turn to ash in that hell- pit. The mud-filled ditch that one of the Quisling’s allies carved into the alley. So I pulled him out.”

She had pulled him out. And I all but pushed him in. Merkia’s gaze went to the covered body. Her voice was weary. “I knew them all. Each and every one. They were my children.” Children she had sent to their unknowing graves. “I make a poor mother.” The Supplicant glanced towards the Saint. “I thank you for this service. May I ask your name?”

Alice frowned, but rose to her feet, only to turn and bow to the Supplicant. “I am Alice, milady. Alice Lynch. A Sergeant in the Saints and Third-in-Command of Captain Magro’s squad.” She paused, grimacing once again. “And, excuse my insolence, but you don’t need to thank me for standing by my brothers in arms.”

“Captain Magro…” Merkia frowned slightly, her mind turning the name over until she found an association to attach to it. “Then it is duty well performed. But why are you here, Sergeant Lynch? Your squadron is not on the patrol rotation.”

The Saint smiled ruefully, gently shaking her head. “We weren’t, but given the current state of emergency, we were turned out hours ago to search for the traitor. I was left back at the barracks to coordinate things, but I’ve since received orders to recapture an escaped prisoner: One of the Quisling’s conspirators who might just have it out for my commander.”

“The traitor, you say.” The Supplicant looked down at the bodies. “This is the second time you have mentioned the Quisling.” Merkia’s eyes flicked back up to Alice, shrewd and piercing. “We know a group of Blighted are loose in the city, plotting some manner of evil. But what makes you so certain the Quisling has returned?” She had to ask the question, but in her heart of hearts, Merkia knew it was true. Strasna was back. There had been no word from Raelin, and it was past time when she might have reported that all was well at the Temple of Baan. Perhaps Merkia simply needed to hear it from another’s lips.

“Saints intelligence.” Alice said simply. “And assuming that I doubted that, one of my superiors is the person that interrogated the prisoner I’m after. She never outright admitted that she was working with the Quisling; in fact, she went out of her way to deny it. Far too strongly. Couple that with the presence of potent magic, which was used to teleport her somewhere in the city, and I don’t know who else we could be dealing with.” The girl set her hands against her back, meeting the woman’s steely gaze with one of her own. “I don’t like it anymore than you do, milady, but this is definitely the work of the Quisling. Treating it as anything less is a risk that I’m not willing to take.”

“As you say.” Merkia turned back towards the bodies. “It is as you say.” There could be no more hope of secrecy and deception. There had been too much death. She would do what she should have done from the start: tell the truth and do her duty to Palora. “The Owl and her Flock seek the Quisling at the Temple of Baan. If the Quisling has returned, her goal is the Spear. The Conclave must be convened. Return to your captain, Sergeant Lynch. Wake the Quartermaster, or find him. Let the Saints be roused. The Blighted skulk through the shadows. We will make these streets blaze with Baan’s light.”

Alice saluted the Supplicant, filing away everything that she’d learned; Magro and Noah would be interested in hearing a more complete brief of the situation. “Understood, milady. If I may, I suggest that you spread word that there is a powerful magic user supporting our foes. I’ve no idea who they are, but I found traces of their power in an alley to the north, where the prisoner fled, and here inside the inn. Their power isn’t Blighted, but they’re clearly supporting these dastards.” The Saint brought a hand to her mouth, flushing slightly. “If that is all, I will excuse myself, milady.”

A shiver ran through the Supplicant at Alice’s words. A powerful mage... The Saint’s warning raised the specter of a blue-eyed shadow, a sinister memory that whispered at the back of Merkia’s mind. “They will not go unwarned.” She replied, lifting a hand in benediction. “Go with the grace of Illyra, Alice Lynch. It may be that many futures turn upon this night.”

“May she also be with you, milady.” Alice whispered, bowing once more before she spun on her heel and departed. She carried with her a chill that had not been there when she arrived, a worry that she couldn’t quite shake. The Saint had seen the Supplicant’s reaction to her words, and that unnerved her more than anything. The woman whom had served as the steadiest of the city’s Archons, even in the wake of the Quisling’s betrayal, was afraid.



He walked, humming.

Each step was placed with poise, and the Magister almost seemed to skate over the cavern floor. He giggled like a schoolgirl, twirling as he danced into the sepulcher. The cowled figure leapt lightly, bounding agilely through the gristly piles of corpses and coming to a stop with a flourishing bow before Beauty’s throne.

Dropping to his knees, he turned and rested the side of his face against the stone seat, eyes glittering as bright as the quiescent topaz waiting so innocently there. “Hello again. Aloha, kaixo, hola, buna!” He cackled manically, spinning up to his feet and whirling in a frenetic circle. “Oh yes, hello and hello and hello again!” The Magister sobered a moment later, walking a slow counter-clockwise orbit about the throne. “So many years,” he croned. “Soooo long.”

He paused before the high seat, going down to one knee again as though to pledge fealty. “But you remember me, don’t you? Oooooh yes you do.” The Magister giggled again, rising and bowing formally. “This is the last turn, my lady. One way or another, yes, the last turn before the wheel is smashed. May I have this dance?”

There was a long and silent pause as lambent eyes watched the gemstone unblinkingly. No audible reply came to the robed man’s question, but he laughed all the same as he scooped up the stone. Turning once, twice, thrice, the Magister thrust the stone into the air and vanished in a clap of thunder that extinguished all the torches in that forsaken ossuary.



The weights thundered along their courses as Strasna turned towards the kobolds. But before she could act Hendrik slipped by her, charging into the cluster of scaled monstrosities. Axe and cutlass flashed in the dim light as the elven pirate ripped into the kobolds like a scythe through wheat. A fierce grin flashed across the exile’s face, but it faltered a moment later, and the joyous expression was replaced by one of revulsion as the hale beasts devoured their injured compatriots. Illyra might have mercy for the weak and injured, but the kobolds had none. In the space of a few moments the wounded were ripped apart and consumed, only a few bloody smears on the stone testament to the fact they had ever been in the first place.

Across the platform Jana waded in, delivering punishing blows from the bludgeon she favored and sending more of the fanged monsters back into the pit with shattered bones and crushed skulls. Her cousin’s voice rang out over the raucous clangor of the chains, and her kinswoman hurled herself towards a new pack of kobolds dropping onto the left-hand bridge.

Boyfriend? The fallen Paladin mentally shrugged off the jab. There would be more than enough time speak with Jana later, preferably when they were not about to be eaten. The weights on the right side roared up, carrying with them another load of hissing death. Kobolds leapt from the stone, landing on both the bridge to her left and the bridge directly before her. How are they so many?

“Hendrik, the left!” The outlaw did not pause to see if her directive was followed; she darted forward, bounded around the levers at the center of their island, and charged the quintet of beasts on the slender stone span linking the central platform to the island from which they had entered the Spearforge.

A stepping lunge carried her into the first kobold, arm and rapier in perfect harmony as razored steel rasped through scale and flesh. The monster spasmed; claws scrabbled at her extended arm, shredded through cloth, and gouged into leather. Strasna grimaced, twisting the blade and wrenching it back as her boot came up and delivered a solid kick that sent the mortally wounded beast bouncing into its companion. The second kobold snarled as it immediately tore into the first, oblivious to anything but its meal, even as the momentum imparted by the impact sent both creatures skidding off the span and into the chasm.

The slender swordswoman’s hand curled into a clawing gesture that enveloped the trio remaining on her bridge in a cloud of choking ash. Strasna’s blade twirled up into a ready position for another lunge, but the kobolds burst from the cloud in a growling, snarling mass. The exile cursed, bobbing left and slashing, scoring a line across one of the monster’s ribs. Sidling to her right she kicked again, clipping a kobold and sending it back down into the abyss with its fellows. The third skidded several feet down the bridge after missing its leap, pivoted, and then came slavering back at Strasna.

Her right hand snapped out like lightning, catching the leaping beast by the throat and tightening her grip. She kept up the pressure as the monstrosity thrashed, scouring bleeding furrows across her arm as it raked its way through her leather glove. Strasna snarled through the pain and clenched all the harder, feeding her fury into her grip until she felt cartilage crackle. The kobold’s silvery eyes bulged and its jaw worked in a soundless howl. The fallen Paladin lifted the flailing beast to eye level as its frenetic struggles began to slow. “Tell them,” she rasped, giving the kobold a savage shake, “tell them they will find naught but fire and death here.” The exiled turned and hurled the monster into the abyss.

She need not have bothered sending a messenger. The stones roared back up, weighted with another load of kobolds coming to receive word themselves. With a curse, the outlaw glanced back towards the Spearcase. Hendrik’s flames were guttering, but the structure itself seemed largely unharmed by the inferno. A lone kobold clawed its way onto the Spear platform. But its silvered eyes narrowed and it shied away from the dying flames with a hiss. They fear the flame.

“Hendrik!” Strasna cried out to the corsair. “More oil!”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 135
5/19/2017 19:51:47   
Apocalypse
Member

“Bridges. Four. All connecting to a central platform,” Ullr began, his hand grazing across the stone floor. His hand came to a pause as his brow furrowed. The veteran gave a slight shake of his head. “Two additional platforms, but they’re...in motion. Up and down. Cause unknown.” Ullr rose to his feet and brushed his hands off.

“The Quisling?”

“Several humanoids. And multiple...others. That was all I could gather, captain.”

Sylvana nodded. “Aendi?”

“Wedged slab. No triggers, no discernible mechanism.” She gave the bottom a kick. Light flashed through the crack to accompany the low hum. “Too slim to fit through.”

The Owl tightened the grip on her halberd before setting it aside. “Then force it is. To the stone.”

And the three pushed ‘til sweat dripped down their brows and their legs gave way beneath them. But the stone did not budge.

“Damn it,” Sylvana swore. Her heavy steps clanged against the floor. She had given chase to the Quisling through the city, nipping at her heels. She had plunged down into the catacombs unknown to all but the most revered members of the Saints. And here was where her journey would come to an end? The Quisling would escape her clutches thanks to the grace of a mere hunk of rock? She hefted her halberd and roared. Blow after blow fell against the wall as the captain freed her frustration. “Damn it damn it DAMN IT!”

The clanging of metal against stone came to an end with her strikes. Sylvana stood there, heavy breaths accenting the rise and fall of her chest when there was a screech on the opposite side of the slab. It was a light at first, but rose to a fierce discordance. Something was on the other side trying to make its way through. And it was succeeding. “Saints!” Sylvana called out. Her expression hardened. “To arms!”


***


It was a sickening sight, the reptiles ripping into the flesh of one of their own. Hendrik would have lost the contents of his stomach had he not been distracted by the pair of scaled brutes approaching him. Spittle freely dripped from their jowls as they peered at him with their haunting eyes. The elf leveled his cutlass at the approaching silver gazes. They crept closer and closer, but it was the the scourge who pounced first. Left, right, right again. Blade, axe, blade, blade. With impressive grace, Songblade bounded around his prey as the blows fell upon them. One slash carved a cruel groove across the creature’s eye. The second lopped off several of its claws. Blood trailed its fingerlike appendages as they spiraled down into the abyss. The cutlass darted like a snake on the third strike, piercing in and out of its torso as if without resistance. The creature’s form crumpled as its brethren lunged forward with snapping jaws. The scourge pirouetted out of its reach before plunging his blade down its gaping gullet. The beast gurgled before Hendrik ripped his blade free. The steel widened the monster’s grin on one side before it too fell lifeless into the pit.

With these foes vanquished, Hendrik braced himself for the next onslaught. The remaining two, however, did not advance on the pirate. Instead, they had turned tail after finishing their meal and began clawing at the wall. The elf paused as he wrestled with the idea of finishing off the vagrants versus fortifying their perimeter when Cendra called out the next wave.

Hendrik dashed over as more of the vile creatures leapt from the weight onto the bridge. He sheathed his cutlass before pulling free one of the wraps around his waist. Speaking the words of power, the elf unleashed a waterfall that crashed onto the oncoming horde. The pungent, stagnant smell wafted over him as several of the creatures were washed over the edge from the pounding force. One still clinging to the bridgework was pulled down by his scrambling companion with a howl. The scourge pounced upon his remaining adversaries, battering the remnants off the sides with his blades. Savage cries were lost among the constant beat of the machinations about the room.

Despite the number, his companions were faring well for now. The warrior Jana tore through her victims with her demonic arm, a vicious image pleading true to the populace’s fear of the Blighted. Ash and blood swirled around Cendra as she devastated her foes through might and magic. Hendrik felt his heart catch in his throat for a second. If he could fall in love again, he supposed that now would have been the moment.

What reprieve he had was pulled out from underneath him. “Hendrik! More oil!” The scourge caught the flinching form of a reptile as it slipped away from the wavering flames of the forge. He cursed himself even as he made his way to towards his target. The Blight had tarnished his water acts and never returned control over it. The odds were one in three in that he would succeed. Nonetheless, the elven figure pulled the band of cloth free from his arm. There was a pause as inspiration struck. What if he could guide the act? The written incantation was already complete, but what if the oral was altered to match the desired outcome? A risk to be sure, but if it worked…

Whispering for favor from Lady Luck, Hendrik spoke. “Sri di veran koni peser levo finek vetal!” Through fate or fortune, the familiar slickness of black burst forth from his hand. With a roar, the sputtering flames erupted into another inferno, casting wicked shadows upon the walls. Hendrik gave devilish grin through the flames.

Stay here and be surrounded, or make a stand with the fearsome flames at their backs. The choice seemed obvious. “To the case! To the fire!”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 136
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