Draman Del has survived for yet another day. The unexpected waters begin to recede, leaving thousands of bloodless bodies clumped here and there. Beyond the great walls the Zenith hordes re-group and bind their injuries, waiting to again turn towards the city and take it down.
The defenders of this ancient city are exhausted but make the best of this brief lull by resting and repairing a few of their damaged defenses. Soldiers go out to the ravaged 7th Wall and hang the silver and black banner of Draman Del there for all the world to see. They want to show their enemies that they are not dead yet!
There are many dead, far too many to be properly buried. Most are taken and cremated on the outside near the Cursed Woods. Their ashes flowing upwards into the gray skies above. The people here are almost ready to break, their bravery is wearing very thin. They have gone through much and endured the impossible, yet still they stand. Lord Ashen is dead as is the legendary Deathshadow. Things do not look good.
That morning there is a War Council meeting at the Fortress. Destor, Lord Ashen's heir is calling it. He had gone out previously to meet with the Zenith commander to try some negotiation, which obviously failed. Still, the group has been summoned to it since most of the other commanders are now dead or badly wounded.
Ganam stays behind, still translating his various books, searching voraciously for information. He is trying to learn all he can to help turn the tide of this bloody conflict and to find the location of the 'Guardian Sword' called Naterah. The spells of Gadrath are also getting his concentrated attention.
Wilford decides to skip it as well, he is more concerned with regaining his honor on Vraden. He knows the knave must be out there somewhere and justiced needs to be done upon him.
Dril doesn't want to mess with these commanders anyway. He wants to try and find his warg. It's out there somewhere and he just hopes it didn't drown in the deluge the day before. He was growing quite fond of that shaggy monster.
Everyone is relieved of their weapons, except for Gashnak. He is allowed to retain the blade Asgadrath. Many wonder as to why Deathshadow would have given it to a lowly orc, but none question the actions of such a hero.
At the familiar meeting table is Destor, looking worn out and nervous. The weight and responsibility of running things seems to wearing him down. There is also Nothig, commander of the archers. Dermon the Mystic. Innikus of the Scarlet Brotherhood. The injured Captain Frotes. Lastly there is General Treman, who is the overall commander of Draman Del's armies.
In the room with us are ten of the royal guards. Everyone sits down at the table, Alric perching atop Jinx's shoulder.
"Let us have order," says Destor in a none too convincing voice. The room grows quiet and all look over at the young man at the head of the table. A few moments pass in silence, wondering what will next be said. Destor chews his lip and looks around nervously.
"Tell us of what the enemy encampment was like, Lord Destor?" Asks Treman trying to help move the meeting on.
Destor puts his hand to his brow as if in concentration and breathes deeply. "Well, their leader is Krozadai. He told me they want through so they might locate something called the Guardian Sword. The man gave me his word that the prisoners here would all be treated with respect and honor if I were to surrender the city to them."
When this is heard there is general mocking laughter from nearly everyone except Treman and Dermon. Of those laughing hardest Innikus and Gashnak are the worst offenders.
Malik leans forward. "With all due respect, Lord Destor, I do not believe your father would do this."
The young man shrugs. "I am not my father. I am just trying to find a peaceful way through all of this madness. I am trying to save the innocent lives of my people. Every day more and more are killed. I do not want to see Draman Del become a home of ghosts. So many have died already, too many." He chews his lip. "My father among them."
Gashnak stands up, staring down at Lord Ashen's son. "They'll go through this city and go terrorizing down into Brudic and into Corvel! They will kill, pillage, and destroy all they come across for that is their way. This action will not save lives but cost them!"
"Krozadai said you would say that," replies Destor.
"Did he now?" Says Gashnak with an unpleasant grin, slowly sitting back down. He grinds his fanged teeth in an unpleasant fashion but can already imagine the destruction the Zenith would cause if they made it into his home province of Brudic.
Malik raises a hand. "What about Bandegil? Anybody know where he is?"
The elderly Dermon responds. "He was hurt we know that, but since the murder of Lord Ashen he has not been found. Where he is nobody knows. He could be here. He could be there."
"I don't think he was really Bandegil," says Captain Frotes. "I think it was somebody playing the part. I checked his room over and it was quite immaculate like he never even lived there. In my gut, I feel he was an imposter, not the real Bandegil at all." Frotes winces some, rubbing his bandaged and bloodied leg beneath the table.
Treman stands, looking about the table. "We shouldn't wonder too much about Bandegil, it is really a waste of time now. With the battle being so fierce, and with losing so much of the city to the foe, we have started moving our wounded out to Brudic."
"How long ‘til Brudic's army gets here?" Asks Alex, knowing that time and soldiers is the key to holding out.
"It is still two to three weeks away. It is unlikely they will arrive here in time." There is a general impression that he is now in charge. Though Destor is the Lord of the city, Treman is certainly it's commander. The people know and respect him and all he has done.
There is then a general discussion as to who Bandegil might really be and how much damage he might have inflicted on the defenses of the city. The 5th, 6th, and 7th walls have been temporarily re-taken because of the flood but again they will have to pull back to the 4th when the main attack comes again. Still, they will go to the 7th wall later that day and wave their banners high and jeer at the enemy to let them know the defenders of Draman Del are far from defeated.
There is much discussion of tactics and what to do. The Gawk is devastating and seems impervious to everything and everyone. After all it was able kill Deathshadow and cripple Captain Frotes and Gashnak in mere seconds. If it cannot be stopped the city is doomed.
A simple plan is devised. A show of defiance will be made at the 7th wall and some archers will fire volleys down at the coming foe. The broken open gates will be blocked with rubble and stone, slowing down their advance.
The remaining gunpowder they have will then be placed at areas along the outer 6th wall. At the proper time the archers on the 7th wall will fall back through the tunnel to the safety of 6th. When the enemy breaks through and floods that area the powder will be exploded. Hopefully this will kill many Zenith as well as the monstrous Gawk. During all of this the archers of Nothig will rain arrows down on them, keeping their attention.
A simple plan, one that will hopefully work.
There is then some talk about putting the blade Asgadrath into the stone sheath at the statue of General Rangh. The rest of the commanders here are told of Gadrath's Tower beneath the city, of what prophecies Ganam Oore has deciphered and what they think might happen. Tremen and Nothig are very skeptical of all this.
"What would happen if you put Deathshadow's sword in that slot?" Asks Nothig. "Do you have any idea of what might happen if anything at all?"
"There is only one way to find out," says Alric in his tiny voice.
Treman shrugs and closes his eyes, obviously tired and frustrated. "Commander Frotes, your special forces team here seems to be wasting a lot of time on old books and rumors instead of fighting. We certainly could have used them over the past few days."
Frotes looks to Treman. "Commander these were the people who did go out and destroy the catapults that were hitting our outer walls the first day. They have done a lot for Draman Del."
"Really?" Says Treman, looking the group over more carefully now. He doesn't know who they are and doesn't really trust or understand them. He is still very puzzled as to why Deathshadow would have given his legendary sword to a dirty orc. "I am sure the dinky pixie was a lot of help in destroying those catapults as well."
"Well Commander Treman, if it weren't for the dinky pixie this city would probably have fallen by now," growls out Gashnak. His abruptness draws everyone's attention. "He destroyed one of the catapults himself and kept the other groups in contact with each other so we could wipe the rest of them out. If Alric wasn't here I don't think we would be having this conversation right now!"
Tension starts rising very quickly in the room and Innikus stands up, quite resplendent in his red armor. "Gentlemen please, we are all under a great deal of pressure here. Do not forget Commander Tremen that these people were also the ones who came to me and recruited the Scarlet Brotherhood to your cause."
The intensity of the situation lessens and Treman takes a deep breath. "Yes, yes I remember. It has been a very hard time on all of us. Please accept my apologies. "
At the back of all this sits Destor, listening, wondering what to do. More and more he feels useless. More than anything he wishes his father were here instead of him.
Gashnak looks over to Alric and Jinx and nods at them, not liking it when his friends are being sleighted. He knows it is dangerous to provoke a man like Treman, but right now, with the way everything is looking, he doesn't seem to care. Alex, glances over and just shakes her head, obviously not happy with how he is behaving.
"What was your impression of Krozadai when you spoke with him, Lord Destor?" Asks Malik trying to garner as much knowledge as possible about this enemy.
"Big man, large, muscular. He had a priestess with him who was very charming and did most of the talking. Her name was Zenaida and she was very friendly."
"How friendly?" Asks Alric, suspicion already growing in his mind.
"Well, she greeted each and every one of us with hugs. For a barbarian priestess she was very polite and quite fetching actually. Zenaida was a very decent hostess."
The name Zenaida sparks memory in Gashnak. He remembers the name being used down in the tunnel beneath the city. She was with the force that was preparing to sweep up beneath Draman Del and blow it to pieces before the group had got the jump on them.
From his place on Jinx's shoulder Alric weaves a subtle spell. Not even Dermon detects him doing this. From it he senses magic, magic both obvious and well hidden. He gets readings from Dermon, Jinx, Kazier, Asgadrath, Destor and every one of the guards in the room. The detection from Destor and the guards is indeed very subtle.
Alric stands on his tiny legs, his purplish wings flittering on his back. "Lord Destor, do you have any magical items upon you?"
"No I don't, pixie. I have no such devices upon me at all."
"My Lord I do detect that there is magic radiating from you and from the guards in the room. Are these the same ones who went with you to meet with Krozadai?"
Destor nods his head. "Yes they are. So what?"
Dermon the Mystic shrugs. "Alric I detect the same on them. I believe it is no threat. What will be will be."
All eyes are on Alric now who begins to grow a bit nervous. "I can use magic subtly, very much so. I wonder if she might have done the same? Casting some spell on you and your men?"
"That is ridiculous pixie!" Barks Commander Treman. "You and your kind have tiny lives with overactive imaginations. Lord Destor would have known if he had been magicked on or not. This is a waste of our time!"
Alric quickly bows to Lord Destor. "Forgive me, I did not mean to offend you."
Destor stands up at the end of the table, obviously not pleased by this line of questioning, especially from a yippy pixie. "I know I am not my father. I know many of you do not respect me. However, if there is nothing else we should bring this to an end!" He claps his hands together.
A shudder runs across all the guards suddenly, and even Destor seems wobbly. The guards shake their heads, and raise them back up with glazed eyes and all draw steel. Destor's clap seemed to be the trigger effect for the enchantment that Alric had feared. Each of the guard turns towards Destor and begin to move towards the shaken young man.
"Protect Lord Destor!" Yells Alric, stunning one guard a spell. His wings buzz and he flies over to him.
In a blur Gashnak draws Asgadrath and whirls the sword, disarming one man and then smashing the pommel of it into the bridge of his nose. The charmed guard goes flying backwards into a wall, blood gushing from him, sliding down the stone wall quite unconcious.
The spinning blade goes through the air and is caught in the outstretched hands of Captain Frotes. He turns and begins to battle one of the guards trying to get to Destor.
Jumping to his feet Malik picks up a chair and bashes it across the head of one guard, knocking him back but not out. With broken wood in his hands Malik tries to step back but ends up taking the point of a sword deep into his stomach. "Damn! Not again!" He yells.
Kazier starts punching and kicking in a very rapid fashion on his armored target. His fists sting as they punch into the chain shirt the man is wearing. Jumping high he kicks out with a boot, the tip striking below the man's jaw. The guard sprawls to the floor and the elf lands satifactorily on his chest.
Snapping out her staff Jinx moves next to Alex and sweeps one man off his feet. The red haired elven warrior then gives him a boot to the head sending him to nighty night land. Both girls look to each other and nod in unison at their teamwork.
Innikus grabs one and lifts him over his head and then slams him down with incredible force onto the table. Cracks run it's whole length from the massive impact but the enchanted guard is no longer moving.
Not to be outdone, Commander Treman headbutts one and Nothig decks another. Destor stands where he is, trembling in terror at what is happening. Only Alric is nearby, zapping any charmed guards with stun magics when they get too close.
Dermon stays to the back, not engaging any in the battle.
The battle does not last very long. The combined strength of those here, even disarmed, is too much for charmed soldiers to stand against. Soon they are all down, beaten and pummelled into unconciousness. Most amazingly nobody has been killed. Only Malik has taken any real damage in the struggle and Jinx immediately goes to him to staunch the spurting blood flow from his mid-section.
"Ow." Malik feels the piercing sensation slowly fade as Jinx works her healing powers upon him. He looks up into her green eyes. "Thanks."
"It's what I do," she says with a smile.
More guards come into the room, weapons drawn and wide eyed. Treman points a finger at the sprawled out figures. "Take them out of here and toss them in the dungeon!" Immediately they start dragging the men out of there, not questioning his orders. Dermon follows them out.
Alric flies over. "Commander Treman don't hold it against them, they were all enchanted. It was not their fault." He looks back over to the still shaking Destor. "Forgive me my Lord, but I was afraid something like this might happen."
Barely containing his fury Treman looks down at the hovering Alric. "No need to rub it in, pixie. Fly swatters are in abundance here!"
Gashnak is about to say something impolite when Destor unexpectedly speaks. "I am going to turn over all command to General Treman!" There is an audible tremor in his voice. "You, you will know what to do better than I in this. I have no experience in command. I have no experience in anything. M-my guards tried to kill me!"
Gashnak goes over to Destor, seeing how sad Lord Ashen's heir has become. "Do not be so hard on yourself. Learn from this experience. Your father did not gain all his wisdom in one day. It will take you time to find out who you are."
Without another word Destor slips from the room, head held low. No one says anthing as he goes, nothing at all.
When he is gone General Treman sits back down and puts his elbows on the fractured table. "Well now we know they want to fight dirty! Using a cheap spell like that! Dishonorable dogs!" Innikus and the others set chairs back up and sit down as well. Treman rubs at his temples for a time before speaking.
"Well I think the powder plan might work, it could kill or hurt the Gawk. But what about the business of this sword? What would it do?"
"I think it might open a doorway to General Rangh," says Jinx.
"The Steel General?" Asks Treman in a disbelieving voice.
"From all our studies it indicates that the wizard Gadrath had planned for this and that he might be brought back when it is the darkest hour. At least that is what the inscription has us believe. Deathshadow believed in the prophecy as well, that is why he gave Asgadrath to Gashnak."
Treman leans back and looks over to Nothig who shakes his head. "Is that possible? Can this wild sorcery somehow bring back General Rangh? Would he not have died in the ages that have passed since his time?"
Jinx smiles pleasantly, running a blue gloved hand through her red hair. "I do believe that Gadrath would have calculated for that."
"So is this the darkest hour?" Asks Treman.
Alric laughs merrily. "It's not the darkest hour yet, it's only partly cloudy."
"Well, I am not convinced in any of this," says Treman. "But I will set up preparations for the detonations at the 6th wall and will make sure that Commander Nothig and his archers are ready to harass the foe as much as possible. We have perhaps a day before they come again."
Treman stands up as does Nothig. He looks over to Gashnak, and to the blade over his shoulder. "The Zenith were afraid of Deathshadow and now you carry his sword."
Gashnak rises to his feet. "Well, they will then learn to be afraid of me."
With that Treman laughs and exits the council chamber.
Captain Frotes stands up, still pained by the injury to his leg. "Listen Gashnak, Alric, you might want to watch your mouths. You've been helpful but you are dealing with nobles here who deserve respect. A lot of you really don't know your place and talk out of turn. Treman is short tempered and doesn't need any disrespect from you. You are my special team, it makes me look bad."
Gashnak sighs and grinds his teeth some. He looks over to Alex who looks away from him. "Well, I am an orc after all, not some graceful elf you know. Isn't that my nature to be rude and crude?"
Innikus stands up and pats Gashnak on the shoulder. "We are what we do when it counts," he says. "I must attend to my warriors." The crimson armored fighter then leaves himself.
The big orc puts his hands across his chest and gives a rather unpleasant looking frown. He doesn't look happy and seems very grim, which is kind of odd for those who have known him.
Alric shakes his head and lands in front of him, raising his hands into the air. "Bring back Maurice!" He says with a smile. "He had a sense of humor and was a lot of fun!"
His response is very cold and almost scary. "I am not him. Maurice le Chavilier is dead. I . . . I am Gashnak the orc."
They do some more planning. Once the explosions go off they will charge in and fight the Gawk as a team. Only working as one can they hope to defeat it. Gashnak doesn't have high hopes that the blasts will have much effect on such a monster.
"Let's just pray there is not more than one," says Jinx.
The day passes on by. Kazier goes off with Malik and begins teaching him bharata, the Way of the Bow. It is an elvish style of ranged combat, one that he shaggy haired human takes to very quickly.
Alric goes to Ganam's study and works with him on translating the spells from Gadrath's diary into modern Corvellian. The pixie likes looking over the ancient magics from such a famed sorcerer from the past.
Alex and Jinx go to the wounded soldiers and provide what care and aid they can for them. The lovely ladies are very good at this and take a sad comfort in knowing they are able to relieve some of he suffering these brave soldiers are all going through.
Gashnak goes to the 7th wall and does his best to invigorate the troops there. He stands at the edge and waves the banner of Draman Del and laughs mockingly at the distant foe that are slowly reforming into an attack force. "We're still here you bastards!"
Many of the soldiers here are scared, stunned by the loss of Deathshadow. Gashnak goes through them, showing them Asgadrath but not feeling very worthy of it. But he does what he can to bring them cheer.
Later that afternoon Alex joins him at the wall, and gives him the slightest of smiles. He simply nods back. "It's going to be a hard fight."
"Yes it is."
Night falls. The Akrindorians brandish their weapons, give their war cries, and charge the walls of Draman Del. Nothig's archers fire repeatedly into the mass of onrushing warriors, every arrow finding a target. In the teeming thousands below those that are hit cannot even be seen in the moving mass that is the barbarian horde.
From below some Zenith archers fire back, most of their shots going wild or missing totally. Every once in a while a defender will take a hit. In all of this Alric gets grazed by one, nearly taking the little pixie's leg off. As he tumbles downwards he heals himself before splatting messily on the ground.
In the enemy ranks are spell casters who begin lobbing explosive balls of flame upwards at the walls. Some burst high, some burst on the wall. Some Draman Del warriors get blasted off by these spells, their bodies bursting into flame. Immediately Malik looks for these sorcerers, spots one and sends an arrow through his eye.
Alex, Gashnak, and Kazier also fire their bows down into the hordes. Untold thousands of Akrindorians are killed as they again hurl themselves at the cities defenses. "All hell's broken loose!" Yells Malik in between shots.
Ladders keep rising and hitting the walls and are pushed back, but the tide of ferocious barbarians is unstoppable. At the base of the wall is the Gawk, dark shrouded, spike armored with hellish eyes. With it's double axes it begins hacking at chopping at the barricade set up below to block them out.
It glances up once at the group, it's monstrous eyes filled with inhuman loathing. The blows of it's axes are enough to fell trees they strike so hard.
"I wonder if tonight will be our darkest hour?" Yells Gashnak.
This fighting goes on for half an hour, but Commander Nothig sees that enough has been done. "Back! Everyone fall back! Hurry!"
Instantly the surviving troops react, racing down stone stairways and through the tunnel entrance to the 6th wall. Malik picks up one wounded archer and carries him over his back as they make their rapid retreat. As they do so the Gawk begins hacking his way through the plugged gate, it's weapons seemingly screaming with a hellish life of their own.
As the barbarians start over-taking the crumbling 7th wall, archers from the 6th begin firing now in full volleys. Pierced bodies scream and twist, tumbling to the ground. Once all are through the doors to the 6th the great wooden bar is thrown across it. Though newly repaired it will provide some defense.
The Gawk hacks it's way through and howls. It goes charging in, waving it's axes in it's hands. Behind it comes the seemingly endless stream of hairy barbarians. Nothig's archers take a frightening toll but still they keep on coming and coming. For every one felled another 20 take their place.
From above Alric zips down and fireblasts the Gawk and the Zenith around him. The humans are burned to a crisp but the dark armored Gawk just looks up and screams in rage at the diminuitive pixie. Quickly he flits away, getting to the safety of the 6th wall.
"I do have a way with pissing people off," he thinks merrily to himself.
At the top of the 5th wall is General Treman watching the battle unfold before him. All seems to be going according to plan. At the 4th wall is Captain Frotes with his waiting cavalry, waiting for the opportunity to charge through and engage the enemy in fierce hand to hand combat once more. Innikus and the Red Priests are there too, waiting for the signal to go forth and attack.
Again the Gawk goes right for the barricade, hacking and chopping madly. The thing is monstrous, it's face filled with hatred and fangs. Behind it come the barbarians, crowding shoulder to shoulder, ready to claw over each other to kill the people of Draman Del. They seem berserk, filled with an insane battle rage.
Of course none of them notice the carefully placed and disguised kegs of gunpowder before them. At Nothig's signal an archer with a flaming arrow fires down. The black powder is struck and it erupts into a thundrous blast, almost immediately followed by the rest. All along the base of the 6th wall the kegs explode, blasting the clumped barbarians into smoking, bloody chunks of meat. It is indeed a glorious sight. Hundreds are killed in seconds, bits and pieces of bodies splattering back and into the air, raining down on other barbarians even beyond the 7th wall.
Immediately after the blast the shattered door is thrown open and out charges Gashnak, Alex, and Kazier. Right behind them comes the onrushing cavalry of Captain Frotes and his riders. The trio run across hazy battlefield. The area before them is one of shredded, smoking bodies, chunks of rock and mud. The devastation wrought by the gunpowder is unbelievable.
Through the clouds of voluminous, gray-blue smoke they see a large figure slowly moving towards them.
It is the Gawk.
The three charge as fast as their legs can move them and the giant, armored monster does the same. All are screaming at the top of their lungs as they go. Before Frote's cavalry hits the regrouping barbarians this battle will be where both sides make brutal melee combat first.
Gashnak comes slashing with Asgadrath, holding the weapon with both hands. It brings up one jagged axe and deflects the blow away. Kazier dives low and slashes vertically, cutting it along it's chest with one of his silvered draenam blades. Sparks come off it's dark armor but he has wounded it.
With a back handed chop, the Gawk strikes Kazier, sending him spinning away. Amazingly the elf is not cut in half and manages to stay on his feet. He has blood pumping down from the horrific wound he has in his side. Wincing he puts his hand to it, feeling the warmth of his own life bleeding out of him.
Gashnak whirls Asgadrath again and once more the fast moving enemy parries the blow. The orc feels an incredible hatred for this thing, but he cannot land a blow. Every strike is parried or knocked away.
However Alex dives forward with both her katanas. Her twin blades stab deep into it's armored abdomen, driving them almost up to their respective hilts. Shrieking in rage the armored monster strikes her in the chest, shattering ribs. Alex's body is hurled into the air and she goes splattering down in a heap. She lands coughing blood.
Turning to Gashnak the monster brings both of it's jagged axes down at him. Both massive weapons strike the orc in the chest, smashing him down into the muddy ground by several inches. Dirt sprays into the air along with his blood. It is in unbelievable miracle that the orc still lives and was not split in two. It is even more of a miracle that he still remains concious.
Up on the 6th wall Nothig's archers begin firing again and Frote's cavalry comes charging full force into the stunned and disarrayed barbarians. Arrows pierce flesh and steeds trample the foe. Some fight but many turn and run. All those still within the space between the 6th and 7th walls are crushed, slaughtered. Frote's sword becomes red, covered in the gore of so many slain foe.
From the wall Malik adds his own firepower to the battle below, taking out as many barbarians as he can. But his arrows are running low, as is everyones. In the center he can see the battle between his friends and the Gawk. A circle of open space is around those warriors as they battle it out. It almost seems as though the victory or defeat of Draman Del will be decided by those who are fighting there.
He aims for the Gawks eye and fires. The arrow is bounced away of course, he still has his magical protection. With a curse he sends out another shot, this time to a barbarian's heart.
Zipping overhead Alric merrily adds his magical blasts of energy to the backsides of the retreating barbarians. He notes how pretty they look when they catch fire and run around screaming. In fact, he begins to realize how much fun he is having blowing apart all these big people, ones who had always made fun of him because he was a pixie. He just wishes for a moment that Methos was here to see him.
The Gawk turns to the still standing Kazier and begins a whirlwind of attacks. The elven warrior blocks, parries and dives out of the way of these devastating strikes. However he can sense the creature is hurt, dark blood is oozing from the wounds that have been inflicted upon it. But Kazier can do nothing but fall back, blocking over and over, not getting the barest of chances to strike a return blow.
The armored giant seems unstoppable. It's eyes glow red and it snarls through it's fangs at him. This is when Kazier realizes that this indeed might be the end.
Pulling himself up out of the mud, Gashnak gets to his wobbly legs. Roaring like a beast himself he charges at the Gawk's back and swings Asgadrath as hard as he has ever swung anything before. The monster turns to face this new threat and brings up an axe. This time it is too slow.
Asgadrath strikes the Gawk in the head, ripping it's twisted helmet off and away. The gash on it's forehead begins bubbling out black smoke, spewing it instead of blood. It's face twists and melts, and re-forms and melts again, shrieking in inhuman agony. The frightening cry is enough to send chills down even Kazier's back.
From her place on the ground Alex gets up on one elbow, still clutching one of her katanas in hand. She slashes forward, hitting the Gawk behind the knee, taking it's leg off. The armored monster thunders to the ground, roaring, raging, slashing all about with it's axes. Shadows gushing outwards from it's many wounds.
Kazier stabs it in the side, Gashnak drives Asgadrath into it's chest, and Alex, still on the ground, strikes the final blow. She slashes with her sword and take's the monster's screaming head off. It bounces away, steaming black blood gushing from it's stump.
Staggering over to the head, Kazier sticks his blade through it and raises it into the air. He has a sense of dark triumph over this fiend of evil. It lasts only a few seconds though. Some of it's black blood drips down on his leg and burns him painfully. The Gawk's body starts disintegrating.
With a chuckle he hurls the head away, letting it bounce merrily to where ever it might go.
Stabbing Asgadrath down into the ground, Gashnak goes to a knee before Alex. He takes her hand and together they help each other up. Both are bloody messes, but together they manage a smile at each other.
"We got that spawn of hell," says Alex through bloodied lips.
"All three of us did," says Gashnak, putting an arm around Alex and Kazier.
Alric flies over to his friends and immediately starts laying healing magics on them. "You killed the Gawk! Awesome! Let me lay some healing smaks on you!"
Jinx comes running up, her staff in hand. She looks the group over and doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. "You made it!" Jinx does her magic just like Alric does, and in the space of a few moments the horrific, almost mortal wounds all had taken begin to fade away into just painful memories.
Frote's cavalry has cleared the initial wave of Akrindorians back. Even with their champion, the Gawk slain, they begin surging back. This time the archers are nearly exhausted in arrows, and the battling warriors are all suffering from fatigue.
He rides up next to the group, covered in the blood of his slain enemies. "We've pushed them back for now but they will counter charge and soon! We must fall back to our defenses! The 7th and 6th walls will soon be lost!" He salutes with his sword. "You have killed the Gawk! We might just make it after all!"
Gashnak looks up at Frotes, then to everyone else. He sees Dril and Wilford making their way over the mounds of slain enemies to them now. Both look like they have been through a hell of a fight. Malik also makes it down from the wall to join back up.
From outside the 7th wall comes the screams of tens of thousands, ready to renew the assault. The battle is far, far from over.
"To the statue of General Rangh!"
The whole group moves back into the city, past the fighting warriors, to get once more before the statue of the great General Rangh. There, once again they see the proud statue of the Steel General. Alric uses some minor magics to get it to unlock and then Gashnak puts his shoulder into it to push it back faster and harder.
"They're coming back!" Cries a distant soldier. The murderous Akrindorians have gathered their might again and once more are laying siege to the city. Everyone there knows they don't have much time.
The statue moves aside and Asgadrath begins to glow a bright blue. Thre are two symbols there, crescents that are also glowing as well. Gashnak raises the blade to the starry night sky. "It looks like this is the darkest hour!" Then he plunges the sword into the open slot between the glowing runes.
There is a silent explosion of light, washing over all of them. Gashnak draws the blade back out and they all see a swirling circle of light before them. A portal, a gateway set up by the wizard Gadrath long ago.
Without hesitation Gashnak leaps forward and is followed by Alex and soon everyone else. It is like falling through a tunnel of light. They feel as though they are passing between something, worlds perhaps.
Their minds spin and all find themselves in a bleak, realm of gray shadow. Behind them the circle of light slowly shrinks until it is but the size of a candle flame and then vanishes entirely. Incredibly their seems to be a trail of twinkling starlight before them, some type of path. Everyone seems to have made it through without any problems.
In Gashnak's hands Asgadrath glows bright. "Any idea of where we are?" He asks back to Jinx.
She shakes her head, looking across the bleak, featureless landscape. Everyone gets close to her, and before long they all begin to see shadowy images appearing. In the distance, all around, start coming these ghostly forms. All draw their weapons but seem to recoil in the light of Asgadrath. What is most peculiar is there is no wind, no sound, a realm of gray shadow.
Some can be seen through, gray eyes open and staring. Others look more solid, with bones and stretches of skin. They are slow moving, shambling along, but they stay away when Gashnak brandishes the sword.
All of this is really beginning to scare Alric, who flits down and sits on Jinx's shoulder. He tosses up a couple of daylight spells but each one is instantly devoured by the nature of this twilight realm. This seems like no place any living person has ever seen before.
"Where the hell are we?" Asks Dril, still mad he wasn't able to find his warg.
In a very quiet, frightend voice, Jinx begins to whisper. "St. Lyssa protect us! We're in The Underworld, the land of the dead! These, these things around us are the shades of ones who once lived!"
Hearing that adds a whole new creep factor to the situation. Everyone feels the icy finger of fear run down their backs as they know they now look upon the spirits of the dead. It is not a pleasant thing to see or imagine. The shades keep on coming and coming. Soon the landscape is filled with this silent, staring, agonized spirits.
"We need to follow the path," says Alex. "Gadrath must have set up things this way. I think it will take us to where we need to go!" She is holding onto her katana's so tightly their wrapping begins to cut into the skin of her palms.
With a wave of the sword Gashnak starts following the starlit pathway. "Follow me," the shades part for him. For his part he tries not to look at them too closely, wondering if any of these might be people he has sent here in battle. But there are so many of them, so terrifyingly many.
Jinx stays in the center of the group and Kazier stays in the back. To him it seems as though the creatures are quite evil and malevolent. He stares into their dead eyes and they stare back at him. Drawing deep breaths he hopes that they quickly find whatever it is they are searching for, because these creatures are even more frightening than the ones they had encountered at that abandoned monastary some months ago.
For an unknowable time they continue to follow the pathway before them. Then, Gashnak feels something. He looks at Asgadrath, seeing it wreathed in blue energy, and then it crackles and the light from it fades. Instantly he feels the sword grow heavy in his hand. "By Rellian! Something must have happend to the Guardian Sword!"
The shades, once fearful of Asgadrath's power, sense that it is not a threat to them any more. Like a wave they begin to converge on the group. Ghostly and skeletals hands reaching out, grasping, wanting. Strangely they all seem to be going right for Jinx.
Alric flies up and tosses off two spells of light, and both are snuffed out in the wink of an eye. "Ak!" He yelps and drops back down on Jinx's shoulder. Kazier also tries a spell and it too has no effect. Gashnak sheathes Asgadrath and pulls out the bloodsword.
"Protect Jinx," bellows Gashnak and all form into a defensive circle around her. Dril whirls back and forth with his double headed axe. Malik fires arrows. Alex whips about with her twin blades. Wilford lunges and stabs with his rapier. Kazier strikes with claws and his curved blade. Gashnak slashes this way and that with the bloodsword. Some of the ghostly images fade away, some actually break apart. They are so strange and unearthly.
Jinx stays in the center, eyes wide and fearful, seeing all the ghostly doomed coming for her. She holds out her hands and draws into the powers of her belief. A ball of white light appears before her and it expands at an incredible speed. As it does so all the shades and other creatures vanish as they are touched by that heavenly light.
"Run!" She screams and the whole group moves. They continue to follow the diming pathway, and the shadows return and again and again Jinx draws into her holy powers and sends out waves of light to eliminate the shades that come for them.
Time stretches into a blurred eternity here as they race across this narrow path. Jinx blasting with her light and everyone else using pure physical force to knock apart those things that are trying to stop them. Fear fuels them and it gives them the strength and drive they need to beat back all those lost souls that hold malice for the living.
Unexpectedly the shades all scatter, moving away from the group. Soon the landscape becomes clear, devoid of those shadowy beings. With his keen eyes Kazier sees something coming their way, and he points a finger that direction.
A lone figure comes walking towards them. It is solid, not immaterial. The figure is like a man in odd, leather armor, a partial mask over his mouth. The black hair on his head is cropped short and his eyes are unblinking, beady, red. A sword is slung across his back.
His black, dead eyes peer at each member of the group. It is as though he is looking into our souls. When he speaks, frost comes his covered mouth.
"I am a hunter. You are not my prey."
He then moves on, travelling across the featureless gray landscape. Alric, though scared, can't help but call out to him. "Who are you hunting?" The leather clad man says nothing and is soon lost in the gloom that makes up The Underworld.
"What in the name of a dragon's ass, was that?" Asks the ill-tempered sprig.
"A soul hunter," answers Jinx. "It is a being that is created to go out and hunt for souls. They are magical constructs, created by powerful magicians. They travel the planes of existence hunting certain souls for their masters. Ganam and I read about them."
"They don't sound like pleasant . . . People," says Wilford. "I think we should make haste and follow this path."
Travelling forward again the shadowy hordes once again begin to surround the group. Jinx disperses them with several more of her balls of light, but it is obvious that it is draining her. "I can't do this all day long!" She says gasping for air.
Incredibly, out of the swirling mists, something appears. It looks to be a house, a small house made of wood. There are windows and a small light is flickering in one of them. Cautiously they approach, wondering what type of trick or trap this might be. However, the path of glittering light is gone and the house is the only tangible thing that has been seen for hours.
Gashnak looks at the very tired Jinx. Without waiting Gashnak goes to the front door and knocks. He looks over his shoulder at the rest of the group. "We should knock before we go in. It is the polite thing to do."
The door creaks open, and standing there before them is an old man with thinning white hair, candle in hand. There is a look of surprise on his features as he looks at Gashnak, then to the others behind him.
"General Rangh?" Asks Alric hopefully.
"What?" Says the old man, as if he is surprised to be hearing words. "You are not dead. What are you doing here?" He motions with his hands and steps aside. "Come in! Come in! I am Radofax! Come inside you will be safe here!"
Not waiting the entire group goes on in and oddly enough the inside of the wooden cottage seems to be much, much bigger than it looked on the outside. It is all so very strange.
"Please, sit at my table." He pulls out chairs for Alex and Jinx and seems genuinely surprised and happy to see the group. "How did you get here? The living are not supposed to come this way? My, my, where did you all come from?"
"Radofax, right?" Asks Malik.
He bows and smiles. "Correct sir, that is my name. What can I get for you? Food? Drink? You must be hungry and thirsty!" Instantly plates with food and glasses filled with wines and ales appear before them. Gashnak takes a sniff and it smells quite good.
Alex looks over to Jinx and slowly nods. "We've defeated an unstoppable monster. Gone through a gateway to the lands of the dead. And now here we are at what seems to be one of the friendliest little inns I have ever been to."
The priestess sighs, and nods back. "You are right. On any other day this might seem strange."
The old man runs around, doing all he can to make everyone feel as comfortable and welcome as possible. "I am happy to see you, I don't get many visitors you know. How did you get here and where did you come from?"
"Well, it's kind of a long story," says Kazier. So while they all sit, drink and eat. Radofax is told of the story of Draman Del, the sorcerer Gadrath, the prophecy about General Rangh, and of the evil god Marg who is trying to come back to haunt the world. During all of this conversation everyone slowly realizes that Radofax is speaking to each and every one of them in their native language. It doesn't seem to bother anybody.
"So what's yer story old man?" Asks Dril, chewing on a turkey leg.
Radofax listens intently, asking only a few questions himself for clarification now and again. "The living don't come here you see. Only the dead and soul hunters. As for me, I have always been here. Once, long ago, I was a servant at the City of Truth. That is where the gods would judge you and decide on where you would go in the afterlife."
Radofax sighs heavily and a look of profound sadness comes to him. "Some time ago, the man you called Gadrath came here. With him was a man, a warrior. Gadrath said he was the greatest warrior ever and that he was here to save his people. Gadrath was trying to get to the City of Truth with this man. He carried with him a sword that had two gems embedded in it. I do believe it was the blade that shattered the god Marg."
"Was the name of the sword Asgadrath?" Asks Gashnak.
"I do not believe so. Once Gadrath went to the City of Truth the gods left. There was nobody left to judge the dead. Since then it has gotten rather crowded here."
Jinx shivers, drawing a shawl tighter about her shoulders. "That is terrible! You mean all the dead just come here to The Underworld to wander for eternity?"
"For most people, that is true," replies Radofax. "Only he very good or the very bad progress to their respective Heaven or Hell. Those who do not have such strong ties are cursed to wander this landscape, forever trying to find a way to escape and gain peace."
"What did Gadrath do?" Asks Gashnak. Unpleasant thoughts begin working in his mind. "What did he do to the gods?"
Radofax sadly shakes his head. "I do not know. I only know they left this realm and now the City of Truth has fallen into ruin. Only soul hunters, foul creatures, come this way any more."
"Do you know how we can get out of here?" Asks Alric.
"No, I am afraid I do not. But if you are trying to get to the City of Truth I can take you there. I can be your guide." Radofax smiles, trying to put everyone at ease. "Please, rest. This is a safe haven, nothing can harm you here in my home. Regain your strength."
Jinx stands up and looks hard at Radofax. "The gods are everywhere! How can they not be here?"
He sadly shakes his head. "I do not know my lady. I wish I knew myself."
The group speaks at length with Radofax. It seems as though he himself is some sort of construct, made by the gods to help them with errands with mortals. He refers to Gashnak as a Drakand (orc), and to Kazier and Alex as Svariji (elf). His knowledge of the outside world is very old and very out of date. However, the group does do their best to try and fill him in with all the current events, the revolutions, revalations, prophets and wars. It is a lot to go over.
Jinx remains depressed, and Gashnak too is having troubled thoughts. "What if the soul hunters have found General Rangh and destroyed him?" Asks Jinx.
"We won't know until we get to the City of Truth," says Malik. "Hopefully he'll be there."
Gashnak takes a heavy drink from his stein and wipes his mouth with his wrist. "All I know is the gods better come back and do their job. It is wrong of them to leave these people all lost and wandering here forever. It gets me mad."
He takes another drink and sets it down, looking at it on the table. As hard as he tries he cannot get rid of the thought of Earil-Gania and Maurice being trapped here in The Underworld. They were his friends and he had always believed they had passed to a better world. Those thoughts that they are here gnaw at him and makes him angry.
Alex senses some of this, and realizes that the person she knew has changed quite a bit since he returned to ‘sanity.' Once he was quite charming and ludicrously cheerful. Now, now he seems to be much more like an orc. She sighs to herself, knowing for that indeed is what he really is and always will be. But, she keeps telling herself, that the old Maurice is still in there somewhere.
Radofax stands and motions with his hands to several doors. "My home is bendable to my will. Each of your rooms will be as you so desire, that I can do. Gather your strength, for tomorrow I will lead you to the City of Truth . . . ."
TO BE CONTINUED . . . .
Chronicled by Ken Paynter aka...Maurice leChevalier
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