At Draman Del the battle for the city rages. Hundreds of thousands of Akrindorian barbarians, the Zenith Tribes, are attacking the mighty citadel in tidal waves of flesh and steel. The city's defenders are just a fraction of that incredible number. They battle in frantic desperation to hold back and slow this massive force.
Heroes, adventurers, mercenaries and common citizens of Corvel have gathered here to defend this ancient city. If they should fail they will sweep southward into the unprotected provinces and the nation itself may very well fall. It is a battle they can not lose.
At the hospitals the wounded come in a steady stream. Those who are able to go back to fighting do so, others that cannot stay where they are put. Dermon the mystic is here taking care of those who as do others. Among the volunteers if Alric, the diminuitive pixie. He buzzes about casting his healing magics as much as he can to save as many lives as possible.
Earlier in the day he was down and depressed about Methos having left without really saying goodbye. Then he started seeing the wounded and hurt moving past the front doors of the tavern. With a sigh he put himself to work, making himself useful. Initially scoffed at because of his small size he quickly proved his value by the lives he was able to cheat death of.
As the day progresses all sorts of horrible rumors begin to come his way. Alric hears the news that Lord Ashen has been murdered, probably by Bandegil. The news gets worse and worse. The 7th wall is over run and Deathshadow orders his soldiers to pull back to defend the 6th. It has been nearly fifteen hours of non stop conflict. The victory the night before against the enemy catapults was quite fleeting.
With all the wounded coming in he comes by the badly injured Vraden. The man is on his back, leg almost hacked off. A single guard is nearby to watch him. He will not be going anywhere.
Briefly the colorful pixie wonders where everyone else is and how they are doing. He knows that they went to battle the Zenith in the tunnels below the city. Going into such a dark and claustrophobic area is something he is not looking forward to at all. With so much happening he has very little time to ponder such things, there are too many lives to save.
Alric stays at the hospital doing all he can. His powers eventually begin to fade and he becomes exhausted. Over and over he has restored health and vigor to those who otherwise would have perished. So much blood, so many dying. A few have died on him, their injuries far too severe. Even though he's saved countless people he still sees the faces of those who he could not help.
The elderly Dermon sees him sitting on the chest of one nearly dead soldier trying to restore life to him. Dermon touches his hand to the man's forehead he does what he can to repair the wounds he has taken in defense of Draman Del. "Little pixie, go and get some rest. You have done more than enough here today."
With a sigh Alric waves a tired hand and flies away. It is a long journey through the air to get back down to the comfort of the tavern. On the way he sees the staggering wounded and in the far distance sees the fringe of the great battle taking place there. It is not going very well.
Back down at the Blue Eagle wakes Kazier. He is full of bruises, aches and pains. The beating he had taken the day before against the disguised Akrindorians still hurts. Stretching his arms out he hears the distant sound of thundrous battle.
Looking around he sees that the place is almost totally empty, even the bar maids are gone. Grimly he realizes things must be going badly and half curses himself for have slept so long. One ragged and bloody soldier staggers into the bar and gets a drink. "Destor is in charge now," he says with a mocking laugh. "He's gonna go out and try and negotiate a deal with the dammed barbarians. Ha! Lord Ashen's heir is not even half the man his father was!"
Right behind him buzzes in Alric who lands in a half empty bowl of peanuts. He picks up one big nut and twists, breaking it in half. Hungry he begins to chew on it, trying to fill his tiny belly some. He looks over to Kazier and waves. The blonde elf appears better off than the last time he had seen him.
At that moment the doors fly open and Jinx comes striding in. She is filthy, her blue robes covered with foul gunk and sweat. There is a look near desperation in her eyes. "There is something I need to tell you!"
Sitting down and splashing water on her face Jinx rapidly explains what is going on beneath the city. "I've run for hours to get here. A very large force of Akrindorians with explosives is coming this way. On the way back I think there was a big blast behind me, but the way sound distorts down there I am not sure. Everyone else is down there trying to slow their advance. If they make it here they will blow everything up!"
Realizing the seriousness of this they quickly leave the Blue Eagle and go to the fighting. Captain Frotes is at the sixth wall. The conflict there is quite intense with arrows clouding the sky and vicious hand to hand combat below. Zenith warriors are launching arrows up at them from the captured 7th wall. Frotes listens to what Jinx says. "I don't have anyone to spare in this but take some gunpowder with you. We've taken seven hundred casualties out of nine thousand! I can't tell you how many of those barbarian bastards we've taken out! Do what you have to do to slow them down!" Frotes goes back to barking orders and directing the fierce battle.
The three turn and go at a full run, moving as fast as they can towards the bar called the 8th Wall. It is in the contested area between the 6th and 7th levels and there is a lot of vicious battling going on. They run by the mad fighting without getting entangled in any of it and go down into the sewers.
Kazier looks at the filthy Jinx and can tell she is exhausted and that Alric is tired too. But neither is slowing down. Without a word of complaint she motions with her hand and climbs down the iron rungs into the awful odor that makes up the sewers beneath Draman Del. Deftly they race along the small stone ledge, following the running Jinx.
Down beneath the mountains the rest of our heroes peer into the darkness of a very large cavern. "There is water that way. Fresh, cold water," says Gashnak. They can barely see anything in the torchlight, but a cylindrical tower of some sort can be seen ahead. Carefully some large stones are pushed aside.
"That's very strange," says Dril.
Malik sighs, still suffering from a headache. "Not too many explosions under mountains reveal crap like this. It is very, very strange."
"I'll stay behind to take care of any Zenith that might dig their way through," says Dril gruffly. "I also got me some of their black powder here, good stuff to blast this place down again if'n I need to." He pats the wooden kegs, grinning, fondly recalling the explosion just moments before that did so much destruction.
Alex looks ahead and then back at the collapsed tunnel. "I think we need to check this tower out. Jinx is gone and it will probably take her half a day to get back. We should get some rest before going on. I've done a lot of running and fighting today and am tired. We have been in these tunnels for over a day without sleep. I'd like to not be exhausted when checking out that tower."
The group rolls out their cloaks and try and get some fast sleep. Though wearing armor and are filthy it is still easy enough for them to close their eyes. From the direction of the rock-filled tunnel comes the sound of digging. The Akrindorians are trying to get through. Though they are distant there are a lot of them working on opening this juncture back up. Still, everyone is so tired they all do get some uncomfortable sleep.
Only Dril stays awake, sitting atop a keg of gunpowder, running his small hands over the silvery red hanji-shah axe he carries. He thinks to himself ‘Dreznat, thank you for this wonderful toy.'
A few hours pass. In the passages leading back to the city Dril's sharp ears catch the sound of people running. "Hey everybody, company is headed our way."
The whole group snaps to awareness and get prepared. Some soft blue light starts coming their direction. Jogging their way comes familiar figures, Jinx, Kazier, and the flying Alric. They look sweaty and tired but all are quite happy to see their old friends.
"Good to see you. Alex thought you'd be gone half a day," says Gashnak stepping forward with a waterskin. Kazier takes it and takes a very hard draw before plopping down to catch his breath.
Jinx is breathing heavily as well, putting her hands to the dirty hem of her robe. "Well . . . That is why I ran!" She smiles and laughs at that, taking the waterskin from Kazier and drinking from it herself.
Wilford points to the wall of rubble and rock ahead. "We got some of their explosives and brought the cavern down. After doing that it seems we opened up into another cavern, one with surprises. And this is Malik." Kazier and Alric look over in the direction he motions to.
There is a dark haired man who looks slightly familiar. He nods, looking over the tatooed pixie and scarred elf. "Good to meet you. I was an assistant to Borem, the leatherworker. I'm Malik."
"I think I met you in the shop once," replies Kazier.
"How are things going up top?" Asks Wilford, eager to know what is happening.
Alric buzzes upwards, a halo of blue magical energy around his beating wings. "Well, there is good news and bad news."
"What is the bad news?" Asks everyone immediately and in unison.
"We've taken at least 700 casualties in the fighting."
"And what is the good news?" Asks everyone immediately and in unison.
"We haven't lost yet!" Says Alric with a grin, raising his tiny arms up in the air.
With a shrug Wilford turns towards the great cavern. "Well that's good to know, I guess."
After a quick talk it is decided to go and investigate the cavern with the tower in it. Dril will stay back to take care of any of the Zenith who might dig their way through. He's very happy to take one of Kazier's gunpowder kegs as well. "I'll use yours and mine if I need to. Heh."
Leaving the ill-tempered sprig at the tunnel collapse, everyone else moves into the great, dark cavern. It is indeed huge, and slowly everyone's eyes begin to adjust, taking in it's dimensions. Alric has trouble seeing and throws up a sunlight spell which instantly illuminates nearly the whole area.
"Dammit Alric, I'm just seeing blue dots right now," grouses Gashnak. He is filled with worry and dread now, wondering what sort of traps or monsters might lie ahead. Glancing over to Alex and to the rest of the group he has a fear of what might happen to them if something goes wrong. He frowns a bit, rubbing his two tusks. "I was much happier when I was crazy, thinking I was a prancing elf."
"You got that right," answers Alex giving him a wink.
At the edge of the lake they look across the glassy, black surface and see slivers of light darting beneath it. The tower is more visible now in the magical light, a tall, cylindrical tower with a massive set of double doors below. The top of it is domed. No windows or any other sort of entrance can be seen.
Using his powers, Alric shape shifts himself into a King Owl, like he had done before when the catapults were destroyed. One by one he flies everyone over, Gashnak going first. It saves them from getting freezing from swimming across the probably very dangerous waters.
"Good work Alric," says Jinx with a smile.
Alric flies and lands on her shoulder, having returned to his normal self. "Well you are all over here now." He is quite tired now, having spent all day healing.
Stone steps lead up to the very solid looking door. "One door, one way to go." Says Malik. Gashnak goes up and tries to open it but finds out that it is locked.
Kazier grins. "Out of my way, I'll knock the door down!"
"I think it's made out of stone," says Alric.
The eager elf stops in his tracks, looking at the doors more carefully now. "Oh." He then takes a careful look at it finding no lock, no handle, nothing.
From his perch on Jinx's shoulder Alric can sense something magic within. His face lights up and he flies into the air excitedly. "Let's use some gunpowder and blow it up!"
Frowning, Gashnak looks back at the pixie. "Let's not."
Jinx smiles and lightly touches her finger tips to the back of his semi-transparent wings. "There are other things we can do to gain entrance there, Alric. Things that would be less, destructive."
"Yah, you are beginning to talk like Dril," says Alex.
They hold a quick discussion and Kazier volunteers to be magically transformed into a tiny bug so he can crawl under the door. On the other side he will assume regular size and will try and find a way to open it. Hopefully nothing will go wrong when this happens.
Alric uses his magics on Kazier and he blurs, shrinking down to the size and form of a small insect. The little bug scurries under the door on it's six legs. "That was so satisfying," sighs Alric.
Though in a radically different form, Kazier can tell that the door here is very thick. When he crosses beneath it he transforms back to his normal self. When that happens he is quite relieved. "It's very dark over here." It is totally without illumination, only some light from beneath the doors creeps through,
Finding a door handle he opens it up and they swing open. The group moves into the darkend chamber and gazes into the extreme darkness beyond. Alric casts another sunlight spell ahead and the darkness vanishes, revealing a long corridor.
Malik looks over at Gashnak. "After you."
Following behind the big orc, they come to another door. This one is wooden. The air here is musty, old. The lever is easy to lift and the door swings open. Inside this chamber are two statues of warriors, both have strange runes carved onto their forheads. From their design they seem to have been fighters from the era of General Rangh. There is also another door on the other side that they stand next to.
"Too bad Ganam isn't here," says Kazier. "He would like all this old crap."
Cautiously they enter, wondering what tricks or traps might be here. Weapons are at the ready, and all are looking and listening hoping to detect the first sign of danger that might come their way. Alric senses magic permeating this place, the whole tower in fact.
Gazing at the statues, Jinx raises her hand to get attention. "I think these statues will come to life if we open the next door."
"Guardians?" Asks Wilford.
"I don't know," she answers. "But I do think that opening the door will be a trigger to activate these constructs. I do not know if they will turn to flesh or not."
Malik moves ahead and throws the door open. Instantly the statues activate, eldritch light glowing in their stone eyes. Their speed is unbelievable, who could imagine that stone could do such things? The closest one to Malik strikes him with the length of it's arm, smashing him into the door he has just opened. As it strikes at him with a sword of stone, Gashnak blocks it with his crystalline scimitar. A jolt of energy runs up his arm giving him quite a bad shock.
The other statue tries to lop off Jinx's head with it's own weapon but the priestess easily ducks out of the way. The animated constructs fight with inhuman strength and speed. Malik and Gashnak battle one, while Kazier, Alex, Wilford, and Alric battle the other. Though made of stone, weapons of steel do chip at them. Small cracks appear where they have been struck.
In the fighting Malik's blade is knocked away and he goes diving for it. Everyone strikes or hurls spells at these things. Alric's dispelling magics are particularly effective. Incredibly, with the exception of Malik being struck at the beginning, no one else gets injured in the battle. The silent, hulking, stone humanoids are chipped and shattered. When their magic is exhausted they turn instantly into dust.
After a few brief moments it is over. "Everyone all right?" Asks Gashnak, looking over to Alex and Jinx.
Wilford laughs, sheathing his rapier with a flashy swish. "Nary a scratch!"
Going to his sword, Malik bends to pick it up. A stab of pain goes through his chest from where the statue had struck him. He grunts in pain and both Alric and Jinx go to him and use their powers to cure his injuries. "Aoooeee," says Malik, wincing as they put their hands to where he had been hit. "That smarts."
Beyond the door in the next large room is a solid black cylinder stretching from the ceiling to the floor. The great column seems to be made of metal. It is quite well made, whatever it is. "It probably runs the length of the tower," remarks Wilford.
Coming over Malik runs a hand across it. He has worked with steel for some time, but this is all very strange. "It's like a sort of iron. Very finely crafted but done at extreme heat, very extreme heat." He taps his knuckles against it. "It's solid all the way through, no hollow core. Hmm, it seems a bit oily to the touch."
There is another passage here that leads to an intersection with stairs winding upwards. Both Kazier and Gashnak lead the group. Ahead out of the shadows comes a large, dark, armored figure that is very familiar. It is plate armored and looks like it could be the twin of the Zenith leader that they had briefly encountered the day before.
Everyone acts fast. Gashnak dives between it's legs, evading the swish of it's mighty sword. Kazier leaps on it, stabbing with his draenam blade and slashing with his steel claws. His weapons spark off it's body as he hits. The rest of the group gets into position to fight this metal giant. Alric throws a dispel at it, damaging the power that enables it to be alive.
Behind the figure Gashnak springs to his feet and sees yet another one stepping heavily down the stone stairs. It's large sword stabs at Gashnak twice, each time the orc brings up the crystalline hanji-shah. None of it's powerful blows make contact.
Though frightening and large, these golems are not very agile. Repeatedly both get hit again and again, their own attacks easily side stepped or parried. From behind watch Alex, Jinx, and Wilford, none are able to get close enough to land a blow. A carefully fired arrow from Malik strikes the lead construct in the head. With a shudder the metal golem collapses into a cloud of thick, gray dust. Soon afterwards Gashnak finishes his off, having the same effect.
Travelling up the stairs they enter into another great room, this one at least seventy feet in height. Again, a great metal column of black is here. On the other side are two more warrior statues. They are watched carefully, fully expected to animate and come to life as these others have.
Gashnak looks around cautiously. "Jinx, what do you think of this place?"
She just slowly shakes her head. "I just don't know at this point."
Looking up they can see the curved underside of the dome that they earlier saw on the outside of the tower. The metal column does not quite reach to the ceiling. Alric feels the power of a great magic here, mostly behind the two warrior statues. With a wave of his small hand he dispels the illusion and the wall behind them vanishes. Revealed are two sets of stairways with a statue of gold in the center. That one seems to be one of a man in robes. Flying up to the gold statue Alric tries to use some of his magic to speak to it but has no success.
Gashnak goes to it too and sees two crescent symbols of Gadrath at it's base. With his large fingers he slides the two together and hears a ‘click.' Something is about to happen. He draws his hanji-shah. "Be ready."
Thundrous footsteps can be heard. From down the stairs comes a pair of golems like before. Everyone moves to engage them. With weapons and magic the two animated statues are destroyed, turning again into clouds of dust. In the battle Wilford took a powerful blow to his abdomen and feels quite awful. However Jinx goes to him and cures him of the damage he has taken.
"This is getting to be a habit m'lady."
At the base of the gold statue a compartment slides out when the fighting is over. Upon it is a rolled up piece of parchment. Jinx picks it up and carefully examines this ancient writing. Some minutes pass as she checks it out. With care she rolls it back up before tucking it away into her robe. "This is a powerful disintegration spell. It can only work once so it should be used with care."
Taking the stairs the ascend to the next level. Emerging into another chamber they see it has a stone desk and three doors. Examining the desk there seems to be a map of Draman Del carved onto it's surface with twisting catacombs to the side. There is also a picture of a tower with a lake and river connecting to the city.
"If this is right," says Jinx, "I think the lower city can be flooded. This is a diagram showing how this tower is connected to the lake and a river below. I think there must be some type of trigger nearby that could activate this."
Taking out some paper and charcoal, Kazier makes a quick etching. "This might come in handy later. Ganom would certainly like it."
Looking at the floor something else catches his attention. There is a panel recessed next to the stone desk. As cautiously as he can he slides the panel away. When this happens a jolt stings his hands but below it is a leather bound book. Getting on his hands and knees he examines it and realizes there is some sort of lever beneath.
While all this is going on the three doors are checked out. Gashnak opens the central one and sees another great black pillar there. Wilford goes to the right and Malike to the left. In Wilford's room he sees some stone pieces and parts of statues here along with sculpting tools. It looks like where the automatons that have been attacking them might have been constructed.
Going into the room Wilford runs his hands across the statuary there and finds a thick layer of dust. As he turns he hears a creaking beneath his feet. He looks down then up and tries to move an instant too late. The wooden floor gives way under his feet and he goes crashing through to the room and level below.
Falling he lands on his shoulder and head, seeing zig zags of lightening behind his eyelids. A plume of dust and rubble tumble with him. Opening his eyes it is fairly dark but he can see in the dim, gray light several large stone statues in a semi-circle around him. All are of warriors bearing weapons. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" He curses rapidly, waiting for them to attack.
Gashnak runs to the edge and looks over. "You all right down there?"
Taking a deep breath he sees that none of the statues are moving. "For the moment. There are a lot of golems down here." His heart begins to race in his chest and his shoulder and head begin to ache from the fall.
The big orc does an acrobatic leap and lands beside the fallen Wilford, giving him a hand up. Getting to his feet, the dazed human brushes himself off from all the dust that is now covering him. The sudden fear that rose in him now begins to fade just as quickly.
The glowing Alric flies on into the room and sits atop one of the outstretched hands of the statues. His tiny eyes dart around. "I don't see any of these things moving. It looks like a storage room I think."
Looking at the heavy stone constructs, Wilford puts a hand to his chin and gets an idea. "Gashnak, why don't you push one of the statues over. It will smash through the wall and we can see what is on the other side."
Putting his hands to one Gashnak easily shoves a big statue and it goes over. However it falls wrong and clips Wilford and pins him to the floor. It strikes the wall as it just slides down it, not busting through.
"Ahk!" Says Wilford from his position on the floor. He tries to wriggle free but can't.
"Ooops! Sorry man," says Gashnak. He immediately gets ready to pull the heavy statue off of him.
Alric claps his legs and begins to laugh. "This is too funny!"
Getting a good grip on one side, Gashnak lifts. The statue raises up a foot and then suddenly he feels a horrible stabbing pain in his groin. He has lifted more than he could handle. "Gaaah!" He yells, dropping the heavy weight back down on Wilford, smashing into him again. "I think I tore my sac!" Gashnak falls down, grabbing between his legs in pain.
Alric starts laughing so hard he almost cries. From beneath the statue Wilford glares up at the chuckling pixie. "This isn't funny!"
"Ha ha ha! This is very funny!" Stifling his laughter he flies down to Wilford and heals him some. However he is still giggling so much he has trouble concentrating and has to cast it a few times to make it work. Nearby Gashnak rolls around, gnashing his teeth.
Using his powers Alric transforms into a large bear and pushes the statue off of Wilford. It is rather odd hearing a big bear snorting in mirth. Once it is away Wilford scoots to his feet, still glaring at Alric.
Above them is Jinx now, seeing all this going on below. "Don't laugh at them Alric. They are obviously in pain!"
The bear looks up and speaks in a grumbly voice. "Oh sorry. Where is that tear? Oh, here it comes. Lost it! Bwa Ha Ha!" Wilford thinks about slapping the shape changed pixie but thinks better of it.
With her hands glowing, Jinx levitates the injured Gashnak and Wilford back up through the hole in the floor. Together they float up and are eased back down. Alric returns to his normal self and flies on up after them.
"Thank you m'lady," says Wilford, doing a stiff bow.
Slowly Gashnak gets to his feet, still hurting badly from his pulled groin muscle. Jinx looks to him and almost goes to heal him but stops. "Uh, you guys okay?" She asks.
"Only my pride is hurt," mumbles Gashnak.
"Lets never talk of this again," says Wilford.
"It will never leave the room," says Jinx, trying to stifle a smile. Alric keeps on chuckling, but flies high to avoid getting poked.
Malik returns after investigating his own room. "There are more stairs going down in that one. This place is like a big maze." He looks at Gashnak and Wilford. "You two okay?"
"We're fine," they say in unison.
Kazier points to the book. "I found this guys. I ain't opening it. Looks like there is a lever underneath it and who knows what it will do."
Without hesittion Alric flies down and flips the book open. He stands on it, gazing at the strange writings. "There's a loose page here," he says, hefting it over. Jinx kneels and looks at it very intensely. "Jinx, can you read any of this crap?"
Brushing her red hair away from her shoulder she lightly touches the page that Alric has turned to. Her eyes dart back and forth as she attempts to make sense of all this. "Ganam could give a better translation. I can understand only a little. A lot of it doesn't make sense to me but I can tell you what I do know."
Slowly, hesitantly, she turns the pages over and begins to read from the ancient, yellowed pages. As she reads she will stop, furrow her brow, and continue with difficultly.
‘. . . Finished. The power of Symmetry was very useful. This defense mechanism is only apparent, but it will serve it's purpose. The water-spillers must work, the water must flow immediately otherwise . . .
". . . Hidden on the walls, to the south. It must remain closed . . . Namahthk, it should work . . .
". . . Only a hero can wake a hero, the prophecy is mysterious but I think I have interpreted it correctly. Even Rangh agrees, although the part . .
". . . It has cost me dearly. I am exhausted and I thought I was dead, but I had with me . . .
". . . A dark trail with demons and spirits, only the power of Naterah can protect those who venture inside. It will point the way as a shining path. I thought about creating a magical channeler to send the power of the Guardian Sword to antoher object to prevent Naterah from falling into the wrong hands. A quartz table will work well, qaurtz is a good material . . . It takes millenia to make it . . .
". . . Asgadrath will serve me well, as long as it receives the power .
". . . It will not operate until a Dih-Kanahr is near, only then will it be possible to . . .
". . . Dead, I shall not rest until all are dead!
". . . It was painful to watch a friend die, but there was nothing I could do, his courage will be useful . . .
"The Fortress of Soul, my spells will last for millenia, maintained by the power of Naterah. The hunters will not be able to enter . . .
". . . I have been unable to resolves many myseteries and something eludes me. I must return to my Sancta Sanctorum and study the signs more closely . . "
While she reads Gashnak sits down, trying not to cry from the horrid ache he suffers from in his tender bits. Alex stands next to him and wonders what is wrong with him.
Everyone listens intently to what she says, trying to piece together what happend so long ago. Gently Jinx closes the cover and eases it carefully into one of the many pockets in her blue robes. "This is all from the diary of Gadrath. There is a listing of spells in the back, eight in all. They are all of Gadrath's personal design. Web, haste, invisibility, rock to mud, tongues, gate, wall of stone and enchant an item. I'll keep it with me."
Getting together the group goes down the stairway Malik had gone to. It slopes down and ends at a black wall. Both Alric and Jinx detect magic emanating from it. Malik runs a bare hand across it's surface, feeling the smoothness on the palm of his hand. He finds an indention, a hand print, and puts his own there.
Instantly the wall thrums with light. The blackness fades and turns to a swirling, milky-white. A low hum also resonates from it. All step back reflexively, except for Malik. To his horror he sees his hand sinking in through it and he is being tugged forward.
Gashnak throws his arms around Malik's waist and tries to hold onto him. He plants his feet but the pain in his naughty parts is too great. Along with the struggling Malik he gets pulled through. Wilford grabs onto Gashnak's leg but the three get dragged forward to whatever lies beyond the glowing wall.
Kazier draws his sword and extends his fighting claws and jumps after them.
Now only Alex, Alric, and Jinx remain. Alex steps forward, katana in hand, staring wide-eyed at the strange energy patterns. "Where did they go? We can't abandon them!"
"We need to destroy the engraving on the desk above," says Alric. "If the Zenith get here they might learn something we don't want them to know!"
Jinx turns and starts running back up the stairs. "We'll follow but after we do this!"
Together they return to the stone desk and use chunks of fallen stone to mar and chip away at it's surface. In a few moments the image of Draman Del and everything else becomes random lines in a series of breaks and cracks. Putting their backs into it they manage to push the heavy desk over the small space in the floor where the book was.
"I'll go get Dril!" Says Alric.
Jinx nods and looks to Alex. "We're going after them. Hope to see you soon!"
Gashnak, Malik, Wilford, and then Kazier all pass through the glowing wall. They emerge into a little room, one at a time a little disoriented. Seeing each other they then begin to look around, trying to figure out where they are and if there are any enemies near. The wall they came through is solid, not glowing. Plain old rock.
The place looks familiar, very familiar. There is a stone table with some runes carved into it, shelves with bottles on them, and a small passage leading up some where. "I think we are under the bar at the Old Book End," says Gashnak.
A flash of light behind them strobes rapidly and then both Jinx and Alex come through it, weapons in hand. Jinx quickly looks around, lowering her staff. "We're back in Draman Del?"
Wilford puts a hand to the wall they just came through. "I think this was a one way trip. I don't think we will be returning to Gadrath's Tower this way."
"Where's the pixie?" Asks Malik, totally lost as to where he is and what they are talking about.
Jinx starts moving for the stairs. "Alric went to go and get Dril. We need to get back to Ganam! He can translate this book far better than I can!"
They run up the stairs and emerge into a kitchen and then out into the bar. The patrons here are extremely startled by the unexpected appearance of these people. They already look frightend. Bulthav the owner, just back peddles and gets as far away from these people as possible. "It's YOU people!"
Emerging out into the streets it is nightfall now. People are running madly through the streets, bodies are here and there. Columns of black smoke blot out the stars overhead. The fighting is very close now, and parts of the city seem to be in flames. Obviously things are going bad, very bad. Looking to the 5th wall warriors can be seen, archers, raining down death on the enemy.
The sounds of battle are deafening and maddening. Men curse, cry and laugh, their weapons clanging against each other and shields. Horses scream, fires crackle. It all becomes a raucus montage of violence and desperation.
"It looks like they've breached the 6th wall too!" Yells Malik over the roar of chaos.
Pulling Jinx close Gashnak yells to her. "Get to Ganam with the book! The rest of us to the wall!" Jinx nods and watches the group turn and run, moving as fast as they can towards the raging battle.
Charging to the wall Malik breaks off and joins up with the archers. Everyone else goes through the small gate down below in the center. Emerging out to the other side they see fighting going on everywhere. Zenith and soldiers are locked in a massive life and death struggle. Piles of bodies are strewn all about and the streets here are slick with mingled blood.
Arrows come down from above, hitting into the massive hordes of raging barbarians. Pockets of defenders continue to fiercely fight even against such awful numbers. Some Zenith fire back up with bows of their own.
In the center of the mad maelstrom is Deathshadow. The old man and his blade Asgadrath chop, slash and hew all about, felling enemies three at a time. It is unbelievable how hard he can fight and not collapse in total exhaustion. Others see his brave stand and do the same, fighting beyond all hope of victory.
Kazier sees this and knows what he has to do. Whipping around he begins to run. He has to get back to the tower below and throw the lever. It will flood this portion of the city. If that doesn't happen he knows that Draman Del will be lost before the coming of the dawn.
Shoulder to shoulder, Gashnak, Alex, and Wilford charge into the whirling melee. Their glinting weapons in hand and roaring battle cries.
Alric flies out of the winding corridors of the tower and goes out to Dril in the passageway. He is sitting atop a powder keg, happily smoking a pipe. From the other side of the rocks comes the unmistakable sound of people frantically digging, the barbarians trying to find a way through.
"How are you doing Dril?"
"Fine," says the ill-tempered sprig, blowing out an imperfect smoke ring perfectly.
"Well, do you want to blow this thing?"
"How are we going to get out of here then? I'm a sprig, not some grimy dwarf."
"Don't worry, there is some type of portal at the tower. I don't know where it goes but it's got to be better than here." Dril opens his mouth to say something smart but Alric yells at the top of his little lungs. "Don't sas me sprig! I've had a bad day! I can use magic to turn you into a bug!"
Dril tamps out his pipe. "Not if I splat you first." He kicks off of the keg and looks at the rocks, hearing ‘tink tink tink' getting louder and closer. "It won't take too much more before they start digging through."
Taking the last ember from his pipe he lights the fuse on the keg. "Too bad I won't be able to see their faces," he says sadly. Once lit they both run as fast as they can, knowing full well how powerful this explosion will be.
As they get into the large cavern the keg ignites and it blows apart spectacularly. The noise practically knocks the two of them over, a wave of dust and rock fragments gushing out towards them. In Alric's bluish light they can see that the tunnel has indeed been collapsed even further. It will take a hell of a lot more digging to get through.
The two make it back over the lake to the tower and get to just before the portal room. That is where they stop and Alric looks down at the desk, knowing full well about the lever that is now hidden there. His curiosity begins to take a hold of him. "I wonder what would happen if I threw the switch?"
With Dril putting his back into it the desk is pushed aside revealing the recess in the floor and the lever. Alric flies down to it and pulls the lever. The two look at each other, then back down at the handle that just got turned. Distantly begins the sound of something like rocks grinding together. The tower shakes, vibrating, bits of ceiling begins falling down.
"Let's get to that portal!" Yells Dril.
Running down the correct staircase they come to the wall and see it, black. There is an imprint of a hand at it's center and immediately Dril stands on his toes and puts his own there. "I know that killin' needs to be done somewhere." The wall begins to turn into a swirling glow and Dril unslings his double headed axe before running through.
Alric looks around, seeing the entire place shaking and falling apart. "Wait for me!" He yelps, flying right behind.
Battling their way through the barbarian hordes, Gashnak, Wilford, and Alex hack and slash their way to the embattled Deathshadow. The armored warrior is spattered in the blood of his foes, his wrinkled face a mask of controlled fury. He recognizes them immediately and slays another two Zenith fighters before stepping over to them. "Glad you could make it! There is some monster out there, a creature called the Gawk! It's been killing our troops out there and we need to destroy it!"
With that he points with the tip of his bloodied sword Asgadrath. Near the 6th wall is a monstrous creature with skin the hue of midnight wielding a gory battle axe in either hand. Where ever it moves people die with every swing of it's weapons. It is fanged with glowing eyes of flame, inhuman, something conjured from nightmares or the pits of hell.
At that moment the cavalry of the city charge into the advnacing barbarians, cutting down those that fight and driving all others back. Captain Frotes is in the lead, his blade rising and falling. They push back the screaming warriors, all the way to the edge of the sixth wall in a mad charge.
The Gawk leaps forward and strikes at Frotes. The Captain brings up his blade but the impact of the gigantic axe sends him spinning off his charging steed. Frote's silvered helmet comes flying off and he starts struggling to get up before the rampaging monster can get to him.
"Frell!" Roars Deathshadow and goes charging, running past the cavalry which is already beginning to turn back to regroup. Right behind him comes comes Gashnak, Wilford and Alex hot on his heels.
Ahead the Gawk begins to advance towards the shaken Frotes but another cavalryman charges into the creature. Distracted, it's two axes chop up and across, hacking the valiant fighter into splattering chunks of metal and flesh.
At the wall Malik takes aim at the raging creature. He fires off an arrow but it deflects away. "Damn!" He curses through clenched teeth. Some spell of protection is upon it, preventing it from being harmed with such ranged weapons. Immediately Malik turns his attention elsewhere, seeing a barbarian about to hack at Wilford from behind. That arrow sinks deeply into the Zenith's neck in a satisfying spray of red.
Deathshadow whirls to face Gashnak, placing his blade Asgadrath into the orc's hands. "Take it! You know what to do!" Without stopping him Gashnak lets him take the bloodsword. Their eyes lock for an instant. In that brief flicker Gashnak recalls the statue of General Rangh and the inscription that was below it:
"In the darkest hour, bring Gadrath's servant here."
And Deathshadow snaps around and continues his charge.
"Damn you old man!" Curses Gashnak. He sees Deathshadow rush at the Gawk who turns to face the frenzied attacks of an old man. The hanji-shah strikes across the monster's chest, and a ripple of flesh appears and it roars out agony through it's bared fangs. It then begins to rain an unbelievable number of attacks at Deathshadow. Incredibly he blocks most of them but one gets through and bites deeply through armor, flesh and bone.
Gashnak roars and and runs up, hacking at the Gawk with Asgadrath. "I won't leave my friends behind!"
Alex and Wilford start fighting some of the barbarians who see the two and think they are easy prey. They are mistaken. Alex's twin blades do deadly work. Wilford raises his pistol and fires it into the face of one foe and drives his narrow rapier through the guts of another. "Take that you unwashed dog!" Cries the duellist.
During the pitched fighting Alex looks over her shoulder to see what is happening. She sees Deathshadow falling back, having taken a massive hack to his chest. Then Gashnak is on the Gawk, screaming inhumanly and swinging his sword. The monster blocks Asgadrath with one axe and then strikes with the other. Gashnak takes the hit and it sends him into the air, tumbling like some kind of doll.
Incredibly the orc staggers back to his feet, the Gawk leaping at him. It shrieks as Deathshadow stabs the bloodsword into it's back. "Get out of here!" He yells. "I know my destiny!" The wounded black monster turns to face his enemy and begins another barrage of attacks. Deathshadow and the Gawk rip into each other with unbelievable intensity.
Slashing her way through two shaggy barbarians Alex gets to Gashnak. She sees that he is coughing up blood and hears him wheezing through broken ribs. "Come on Gashnak!" Taking his arm she begins to drag him away from the fighting.
The cavalry has regrouped and General Treman leads the charge. Holding the silver and black banner of Draman Del high he drives his mounted soldiers forward. With him is Innikus and the red warriors of the Scarlet Brotherhood. As rage fuels them they hit the disorganized Zenith full force. As Frotes had done before they fall in droves beneath the nearly unstoppable attack. Somewhere in the midst of all it battles Deathshadow and the Gawk.
In the distant east the skies begin to turn gray with the coming dawn.
Beneath the city Kazier runs until his legs feel like his veins are filled with molten liquid. Still he races as fast as he can. His keen ears hear a distant roar and he feels the tunnel begin to vibrate. Before him comes a tidal wave of water and he pivots running back the way he came. Water begins gushing all around him.
"Dammit Alric! You threw the lever!"
Alric emerges at the Old Book End, flying out high to see what is happening. He sees the fierce fighting at the wall, with the barbarians being driven back by a wild cavalry charge. The enemy has been repelled, if even for just a few moments. There are bodies of dead and dying all over the place. Innikus and Treman kill any who keep on fighting.
He spots Alex and Gashnak in the middle of all this and buzzes down towards them. "I pulled the lever!" Looking at Gashnak he can see that he is badly hurt.
The orc gurgles out "Get to Deathshadow and Frotes!" Alex is having to half carry him and Wilford then comes up and takes the other arm. They drag him off and others begin hauling away the wounded as well. Alric does a slow spin in the air, everywhere he looks there is more dead people. His mind whirls from all the carnage.
From holes in the 6th wall water begins spraying out. All along the long wall the vents suddenly begin jetting freezing water. It comes in a steady blast and it is obvious to all that the areas between these outer walls will quickly fill up. As fast as they can soldiers begin carrying any friendly they can back to areas of safety. With direction from Innikus and Treman they work swiftly and manage to pull off that incredible feat.
On the wall Malik takes a few parting shots, killing several retreating barbarians before running down to help with the rapid evacuation. As he comes out he steps into water that is already knee deep.
Everyone is pulled back to the 4th wall and the doors are barricaded. The areas begin to fill and the bodies quickly sink. Borem's leather shop, the Old Book Inn, all soon go underwater. In moments that part of the city is a huge moat. The murderous Akrindorians have been stopped, for a time.
Along with hundreds of others, Gashnak is hauled off to one of the many hospitals that have been set up. In all the confusion Alric manages to only find Captain Frotes being carried back. His side and especially his leg are very bad off. Frotes is only semi-concious at this point, having lost an incredible amount of blood. The pixie draws from his own back reserves of strength to heal him.
As this happens Frotes opens his eyes fully and gazes at the glowing Alric. He gives a small nod, leaning back on his elbows. "Thank you." Then he falls back, unconcious. Alric bows, hoping that he was able to help save him.
At the hospital Alex stays by Gashnak while Wilford, and Malik continue to help dragging people back to safety. In all of this Jinx weaves her way through to them. Once she sees Gashnak she immediately calls upon her powers to repair all the trauma he has taken. It helps him quite a bit, for he no longer breathes in wheezing gasps.
"I found Ganam," she says. "He is doing as well as can be expected and is now looking over the book we found at the tower."
"What about Bandigel?" Asks Alex.
"There is no sign of him. Who knows where he has gone to." She has a strange expression come to her face as she works on Gashnak's bloodied chest. "It seems as though six days have passed for us, faster than normal. Going through the portal must have altered time for us just a bit."
Now feeling better Gashnak leans up, not wanting to be laying on his back any more. "With all the water coming out the sewers are secure now. Alex, do me a favor? Take Asgadrath back to Deathshadow and get my sword back, please. Tell him we'll take the Gawk together next time."
"First let's get to Ganam," says Jinx. "He's nearby in one of Frotes's offices. There are couches there and I think it would be an excellent place to sleep."
Wilford and Malik return and Kazier shows up as well. Everyone is bone weary, filthy and utterly exhausted. Slowly they tread their way up to where Ganam is, past all the wounded and dying. Alric and Jinx go to them and expend the last amounts of magical power they have to do what they can for as many as they can before joining the others up at the office as well.
At a desk is Ganam totally absorbed what he is reading. He gives a quick greeting and then returns to concentrating on the tome before him.
Everyone else finds a couch or a place to lay down and go to sleep. Everyone is so unbelievably tired it almost hurts. As soon as they get down and close their eyes sleep claims them. Some time later Dril, all dripping and wet, makes his way to a corner before collapsing too.
As they sleep the waters fill up the areas between the walls and then, quite slowly, begin to recede. It will take a day or so but the sudden appearance of the water will drain away. The Akrindorians will be held at bay for at least that amount of time before the fighting can begin again. Both sides will be able to take a breath before tearing back into each other with full force.
When Gashnak wakes he finds that Asgadrath and his bloodsword are next to him. Alex is sitting nearby, watching him pensively. The rest of the group is up as well, cleaning their clothing and wounds, getting something cold to eat. They are quiet and look grim. From the heaviness of the atmosphere he can feel that something is wrong. "Alex?"
"Deathshadow is no longer with us," she says in nearly a whisper. "Dermon's powers were not able to save him."
"Damn." He clenches his teeth and picks up the unfamiliar longsword Asgadrath in his hand. To all in Draman Del and this region Deathshadow was a legend, a hero. News of his death is a spiritual blow to everyone. Looking at the blade Gasnhak lowers it, not feeling very worthy of such a mighty weapon.
Ganam stands up and stretches, looking very tired himself. It doesn't look as though he's slept in days, dark circles under his eyes. "This is a very informing book that you brought to me. It is indeed Gadrath's diary."
"Anything useful?" Asks Dril.
"I think so. It seems as though the sword Asgadrath, gets it's power from the Guardian Sword and that is trapped in a quartz table. From what the book says it will be able to open a portal to General Rangh, it seems as though he is still alive somewhere in a place called 'The Fortress of Souls'." He sets back down, leafing through the yellowed pages.
"However it says here that only a hero can wake a hero. Draman the Red was the wielder of the original blade and Asgadrath has only a fraction of it's power. My guess is that Rangh is the man Gadrath spoke of here, the one who died or went away."
"So where is this quartz table and the Guardian Sword?" Asks a curious Jinx.
"My research indicates that it is a city somewhere in Brudic called Draman Rex. I do believe that the Guardian Sword will be there. I am trying to research it's location, but the solid information is somewhat elusive here. The text is very old and even I am not familiar with all that is written here." Ganam closes the book and looks over to Gashnak and Alex.
"I think when that monster the Gawk returns that would probably be the best time to use the sword."
Hearing the name Draman Rex stirs something in the muddled memory of Malik. He has not been able to recall anything of real substance about his past. However, hearing the name of that city brings something back. Hunching down he rubs his temples using all his strength to try and get something more, desperately grasping for something like a drowning man would. But again, whatever else is there vanishes into the mists of his past.
"If Draman Rex is in Brudic, then we need to go there don't you think?" Asks Wilford of the group. He doesn't know a lot about these magical blades and ancient heroes, but he does feel as though they are real and need to be drawn upon. He thinks to himself that things were so much simpler just a year ago, when King Cedric was still alive and thoughts of war were just that, distant thoughts.
There is a knock at the door. Wilford opens it and there is a young child dressed in green, a member of the Greenfoot Messengers. "I have been sent from Captain Frotes my lords and ladies. There is to be a War Council meeting in the morning. He just wanted you to know this." With a courteous bow, the young lad then turns and goes.
"Well, before the battle starts up again, I think we should try and salvage what we can from Borem's shop. We could really use that dragon hide armor." Kazier, like everyone else there, is still very tired. However he realizes that the enemy won't take much longer of a rest than they will before returning to fight. Anything they can get to help put the odds in their favor is needed in order to be victorious.
"I'm ready," says Malik. "I would like to see how much of the old shop is messed up anyway."
Together, Malik, Wilford, Dril, and Kazier head on out to check out if they can even get to Borem's old store. On the way there they see soldiers and people, all very quiet and sad. The battle is taking it's toll on them. The news of Deathshadow's passing as well as that of Lord Ashen's murder is very difficult to bear. And now Destor is in charge and he is not one who inspires much confidence.
They go to the wall and see that the waters have dropped considerably but are still several feet deep and incredibly muddy. Bodies of dead barbarians are clumped in heaps, their flesh a chalk white, the waters having drained all the color from them. The vents are only trickling water now instead of gushing with it. For the most part it seems that whatever the lever triggered it was only a one shot function.
With only an hour or two left to the day they climb down ropes and splash about. In the badly water-damaged shop they find just scraps of armor, bits and pieces. They salvage what they can but it is not much. Mostly everything there has been washed away in the great explosion of water that had come earlier.
As the sun sets they climb back up and rejoin the other tired soldiers at the wall. Nearby they spot Borem. The big man is busily working away with a crude anvil and a handfull of tools. He looks up and sees Malik and nods to him. "I could use a hand here sharpening some of these weapons."
Relieved that his friend is still alive, Malik sets down his weapon and picks up the familiar hammer in his hand and goes to work. "It has been a really strange day, Borem."
"I know," he answers.
Wilford, Kazier and Dril go out and try to find Vraden. All they find are the frightend, the wounded, the dying and the dead. The treacherous Vraden cannot be found. The defenders of Draman Del are on their last legs. They know as they walk these quiet streets that one more battle will probably be the last. But it is one they will all face as best as they can.
Dril looks around and shrugs. "Anybody seen my warg?"
Back in the study, Ganam and Jinx take their turns now resting on the couches and getting some much needed rest after working on translating old books. Alric is before Gadrath's diary, looking over Ganam's partial translations of the spells that are in the back and trying to figure out how to work them properly.
Sitting together Gashnak and Alex do some talking. They speak in soft tones, not wishing to disturb Alric's concentration or the rest of the others.
"I am sorry I left you behind the other night," says Gashnak. "I was more happy as Maurice and much more fearful as Gashnak."
"So I've noticed."
"Back when I was . . . Crazy, I was fearless. I could take on the entire world. But I am not Maurice, that was a type of madness. I didn't want you coming along because I was afraid you might get hurt or worse."
Alex smiles some, seeing how difficult this is for him. "I am here to fight. I have lived several of your lifetimes you know."
He takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. "Well, so did my elven friends Earil-Gania and the real Maurice. They had lived decades more than me and yet they too died. I don't want to lose you like I lost them."
"Well, apology accepted. But don't leave me behind again."
Gashnak smiles a bit now too. "I am not really sorry about leaving you behind. But, I will not do that to you again."
With that Alex nods and puts an arm around him. Together they look out the open window into the dimming light and the coming of night. Both know that tomorrow will most certainly bring new disasters but right now they have a brief moment of peace.
Alex touches him lightly on the cheek with her fingers, trying to fathom what is going on inside the mind of such an unusual person. He is very ugly, but there is something else beyond that, something brave and heroic, something she finds interesting. "It is very sad that Deathshadow didn't make it . . ."
TO BE CONTINUED . . . .
Chronicled by Ken Paynter aka...Gashnak/Maurice leChevalier
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