The Assault on Overlord's Isle

Notices and stories concerning events in the legendary basement of the Duel of Swords.

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Shadowlord
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The Assault on Overlord's Isle

Post by Shadowlord »

((This collaborative story, set shortly before Vanion Shadowcast's disappearance, is adapted from live, campaign-style play.))

Part One

Shadow sat in the infirmary of the Dragon's Gate Orphanage, right now an almost entirely empty place thanks to his own healing efforts and those of the staff nurse. There was however one bed yet occupied, and had been for months: the young lad, Ollie, who had been 'ridden', possessed by Vanion Shadowcast and used to fight in a Halloween fistfighting tournament. This boy had, for Shadow, been the catalyst, final straw for a particular mission, now two months finished - the ending of Vanion's influence in the city. The aging elf's thoughts drifted back to that time even as his eyes gazed upon the deathly pale, comatose boy.

Vanion had been preying upon the children of RhyDin for some time, apparently in response to Shadow, Claire, and Noctis' efforts to shelter the homeless youth. The Necromancer had ever seemed to be motivated by not just evil, but specific dark acts he knew would rouse his chosen foe to action. Vanion was a spider, and to him the children were nothing but flies to be caught, their souls eaten by the once-bard's hungry maleficence.

This state of affairs could not continue, and the Watch had been seemingly powerless to do anything about it. But there were ways other than the Watch to combat those who violated the city's code of honor (for there were no governing laws, not in RhyDin). And so Shadow had enlisted the aid of a few trusted allies: Claire Farron, whose efforts had been crucial in the building and warding of the Orphanage; Zack Alcar her Team Dirty teammate and a young man of conviction and subtly powerful nature; Rachael Douglas, herself a mage and capable member of the Watch but one who could and would act on her own at need; Napoleon Bonarat, the puissant and cheerful piRATe, resourceful far beyond his small stature; and of course Rumpelstiltskin, Shadow's familiar Manx cat who had been raised in the Towers of the Isle (and would go where he wished regardless of his 'master's' wishes). Their goal: to invade Overlord Isle, Vanion's current residence, and kill or capture the vile, twisted elf in his own demesne.


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Claire's fiance Noctis had agreed to provide the powerful corporate backing of Caelum Enterprises, and the team had been equipped with various items of special gear, accessorized Kevlar combat suits with respirators, all manner of modern weaponry, and even a submarine for discreet passage to the Isle itself. A sniper had been hired to provide covering fire, the mysterious man put in place across the water on RhyDin-side, to add confusion to the expected chaos of the team's insertion.

In the small, sleepy, pre-dawn hours of the morning had the team embarked, Fire Keeper Shadow and his feline familiar none too happy about being immersed in Water in a metal box. But the submarine was state-of-the-art, well sealed against leaks, and besides, the elf's own comfort was immaterial in the face of RhyDin's need. Elf and Manx grimly endured the short trip from the shores of the Seaside Manor to their landing point, a small unguarded beach on the Isle's northern tip.

They landed without incident. Shadow stayed on the vessel for the time it took for Rachael to reach the beach and light a candle, providing the Fire Keeper, with a candle of his own, the means to 'hop', to teleport himself from flame to flame as was his favored mode of transport.

Claire had been designated the team leader of the mission due to her extensive military experience, and quickly got the team moving, south toward the Keep itself, as dawn broke over the Isle. This was not a pleasant daybreak, a storm moving in from the nearby sea, jagged flashes of lightning threatening a deluge which would first break upon the unprotected shores of this island. But it was good cover, a counterpoint to the man-made distractions that the team planned to implement.

Thick, evil-looking fog surrounded the Overlord's Keep as the team approached. Rumpel, equipped by Rachael with a pouch containing several grenades, and with whose eyes Shadow could see when needed, was dispatched toward the southern beaches, where Vanion had placed a large force of mercenaries for the Isle's 'defense'; more likely the mercenaries and their modern ships and guns were intended to be used in some twisted takeover plan devised by Vanion. Another fine reason for the team to be here, to end this madness once and for all.

As they approached the Keep, the fog proved toxic enough that the team's respirators were necessary. Another foul defense of the Necromancer's, but the breathing devices worked well and allowed the group to get close to the castle itself.

Evidence of cookfires, south beyond the Keep, and the smell of roasting meat, confirmed the presence of Vanion's mercenaries. Certainly, though they were largely mundanes, these mercs could pose serious problems for the band. But Rumpel wasn't lazing around, not this time. The timed grenades he carried were set off (the cat having some magic of its own), this being the signal for the landbound sniper to start firing upon the beached mercs. Chaos ensued.

As the team scanned the Keep itself during the chaos of fuel explosions and gunfire, they came to realize there was no visible door into the place. Clearly Vanion had concealed or simply removed various entrances, in paranoid preparation for just such an action as Shadow and his allies were performing. There was a high window, lit from within by a candle's flicker, and further off some sort of possible cellar entrance, however.

A brief scuffle ensued, with a small group of mercenaries who had had the foresight (or ill luck) to head for the Keep itself during the cat-and-sniper wrought disturbance, but a timely sleep spell by Shadow dropped the group. The mercenaries were found to be wearing strange green amulets, and when one of these was removed, the one wearing it literally dissolved into its component parts in a disgusting, gassy display. Clearly, Vanion was using more than coin to maintain the loyalty of these hired warriors.

The window itself proved to be a trap, an alarm of sorts that consisted of the window itself (through which a strange young elven girl had been spotted) transforming into a magical mouth, set to scream when tampered with; and scream it did, appearing as a horrid fanged maw while doing so, all evidence of the window and the girl within vanishing to become blank wall. The cellar door would have to be it.

Around this time the storm hit, both good and bad for the team. Good for cover and distraction, bad for the Keeper of Fire's powers, many of which would not endure a thorough rain-soaking. But there was nothing for it but to persevere.

Vanion's mercenary forces included mages, naturally, and while the band approached the cellar door - guarded by some magical trap-spell consisting of globes of colored light - a group of these attacked. this sort of thing, doors and traps, were Napoleon's purview, and the piRATe immediately got to work in puzzling out the cellar door. Hell was breaking loose otherwise, with Zack, Rachael, Shadow, and Claire exchanging spells, bullet-fire, and grenades with the magic-backed merc team. Though it seemed hours, only a minute or two passed (during which Napoleon defeated the light-trap which involved somehow combining the separate colors into one 'brown' shade), and the team was able to descend the dusty cellar stairs largely without wounds from the swift pitched battle. Shadow, in his mind-link with Rumpel, had just seen (and felt) the cat being wounded; he was forced to break the link and hope for the best, no longer trusting the secrecy of the sight-link with his familiar. He would have to trust to hope.


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The room at the stair's bottom was dusty, feeling and smelling old, and filled with the bony remains of past interlopers, perhaps, and a curious old trunk. There was a palpable sense of hidden eyes watching, probably enhanced by the dangers through which they had just passed. The trunk seemed an obvious place to search, and within it the team found old mummer's clothing, a broken lute, and a curious old parchment. There were on the walls of the room a series of portraits, dust-covered and obscure; each of these proved to be a different member of the 'Knightwood' family of elves. Drakhar, Drexxa, Kael and Mischaelna. The portrati labelled 'Drakhar' looked exactly as Vanion himself might have centuries ago, dressed in mummer's clothing (such as they'd discovered in the trunk). The team surmised these to be from Vanion's past as a bard, before whatever event had occurred to drive the Necromancer to evil.

The room's only exit was an ensorcelled portal; when touched, it proved to contain a baleful necromantic dweomer whose dark energies shot out toward all the bony remains in the room. A cohort of skeletons, including a mage, swiftly animated and beset the party. The battle was intense, fierce, and during it all the team's skills were brought to bear; Shadow tossed magic with the mage, and the others fought with fist, foot, and blade, until the last skeleton had crumbled into its component, necrotic dust.

When they finally got the door open, a passageway extended off, sloping gently upward - not unexpected. What was unexpected was the presence of Rumpelstiltskin, who had been shot several times and looked none too happy about it, but was alive. Though it was unclear how Rumpel had come to be here, Shadow and Napoleon ministered to the familiar's wounds, enough to get the feline moving along with the party. They ascended into the corridor's darkness.

It was here that they first experienced a sample of the magic Vanion had infused into the Keep. While the hallway did not branch off into side passages, it consisted of twists and physically impossible corkscrew turns, an Escher-like, disorienting effect. Napoleon's resources were once again invaluable: the piRATe released a handful of what he called 'spider-gadgets', tiny mechanical scouts which could travel both more swiftly and in greater stealth than could the team. The little spiders led them true, and to a cavernous room at the long, twisty hallway's end.

Suffused by damp, and populated by a dessicated, rusty chain-mailed corpse, the room contained a sloping ramp at its far end, at the top of which was a sealed portal. A stream of sea-water came from a pipe in the wall, filling a small pool; the corpse laid near the pool itself. At the ramp's base was a large hourglass-shaped device and two copper jugs, one larger than the other. Clearly the team had encountered another puzzle-trap, this one seeming far more sinister than the cellar door's globes of light. The corpse didn't help, nor did the fact that the doorway leading into this room had vanished without a trace once all were through.

Though not given to necromancy (in fact more given to fighting those who wielded it) Shadow was able to raise the spirit of the corpse for long enough to question it. A sinister experience to be sure, but the team had already proven willingness to sacrifice much in the way of personal convictions in order to achieve the greater goal of slaying Vanion. "The first is five, the second is three, but only a pure one opens me," were the corpse's cryptic words before Shadow's tenuous grasp on its soul vanished. This was their only clue as to how to discover the trick of the hourglass and the containers, which (they hoped) would open the ramp's portal.

It took some experimentation, pouring various amounts of water into the hourglass-device, until they were able to figure out the secret of the thing. Using the copper jugs, one five-gallon and one three-gallon, they were able to measure exactly the amount of one gallon. Filling the smaller jug with the ample seawater, they poured this amount into the larger jug. Filled once more, then poured until the larger vessel was filled, left the amount of one gallon in the smaller vessel. This they poured into the hourglass.

At first, nothing happened. Then, a loud rumbling as the stone portal atop the ramp lifted upward into the ceiling. The way was clear, and they were through, though their journey had only just begun.


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Post by Napoleon Bonarat »

Part Two

I. The Altar

Napoleon ears pricked up and he started sniffing. He scampered behind Rachael and Claire, holding onto Rumpel in case the familiar needed reassurance, and the party adventured on. Their first stop: the door in the north hall.

Finding no lock on the door, but instead a gap at the bottom, Napoleon hunkered down to see what was inside. There was chanting coming from inside, and he noted the people weren't close to the door. After a quick briefing on what each would do once inside, Claire pried the door open, and the party crashing began.

Before them, ten robed men were gathered around an altar, performing some dark ritual, he was sure. As soon as he had line of sight, Napoleon tossed 15 cheese doodles in the air toward them, which transformed into a dusty, choking fog, courtesy of Gadjit the Goblin. At the same time, Rachael threw one of her discs into the fray, which set up a taser field in a five-foot radius. The rat was impressed.

Rachael said, "Merci. Boys are not the only ones with toys."

The cultists choked and sputtered, and three of them dropped to the floor after being tased. Four of them—their eyes had been gouged out—advanced, wielding knives. Claire, rifle ready, began shooting. Shadow cast a tiny ball of white hot fire from his ArCane at the cultist leader, and Zack locked one of the cultists in a contained gust of wind. Napoleon did what smart rats do and dropped to the floor to evade all the shooting and magic casting. He managed to trip up a cultist in the process.

By some magical force, the gunned down cultist was pulled back to the altar, his corpse catching fire. At the same time, Napoleon felt the weirdest sensation, like his food wanted to exit his tummy. This was unheard of. Food goes in the tummy; it doesn't come out!

The cultist's sacrifice must have set off a spelled trigger on the altar.

Claire fired rapidly at the altar hoping to destroy it. Zack compelled the one trapped in his vortex to speak, only to find that not only did this cultist have no eyes, it had no tongue.

Three more cultists escaped from the cheese doodle fog, rushing Claire. Shadow quickly jumped to help Claire, his sword and ArCane ready. Rachael threw another disc, this one a nitrogen grenade, flash-freezing one of the cultists charging Claire. Napoleon, doing his best to keep his food in his tummy where it belonged, tried to outwit the cultist at his feet, and they engaged in sword combat. Zack tossed the cultist he controlled away in disgust. It hit the wall at a bad angle, breaking his neck. A moment later, the dead body was pulled through the air toward the altar. It ignited, burned, and again Napoleon felt nauseated and dizzy.

The battle continued. What seemed like hours was probably only minutes, and the party crashers looked at the mess they made, and they weren't a bit sorry for it. A third cultist was burning above the altar, and the remaining cultists were unconscious on the ground. When the third burning corpse triggered a spell, the party felt excruciating pain throughout their bodies, and Napoleon wasn't sure if he would remain standing.

The only thing left to do was destroy the altar, and thus hope to destroy the dark magic within it. Shadow and Zack prepared to at least remove the wards, at which point Claire would rain down a bullet parade on the evil device. Rachael, Napoleon, and Rumpel stood guard near the door.

The combined holy magics of Shadow and Zack worked slowly to cleanse the altar of the hungry, twisted energy that haunted it. Eventually, the unclean feeling saturating the room faded.

Claire stepped forward, spinning the rifle in her hand. She used the butt to disrupt the carefully made structure, putting an excessive amount of force into each blow. Napoleon always loved a good pillaging, and quickly set about dismantling the altar. They found that it wasn't held together by anything other than gravity. They scattered the altar, and the burning corpses were immediately doused. Beneath the altar's bones, they found a small wooden box.

Zack said, "I don't trust that."

Claire nudged the box's lid with the butt of the rifle. "That can't be good."

Rachael suggested, "Relics, perhaps . . . or more."

Zack added, "Or something dark and evil that will bite us in the arse to mess with it."

Shadow said, "Well, it was trapped in a foul altar for who knows how long." And he closed his eyes to magic-sense it.

Napoleon was also uncharacteristically apprehensive, despite the potential loot that might be inside. He backed up a few steps.

Rachael suggested, "Or the altar was built around it."

Claire, still using her rifle as proxy, pushed the lid fully open. Within the box was a flute made of carefully carved bone. It was stark white in hue, but for a single, violet rune painted onto the top of its mouthpiece.

Shadow opened his eyes. "There is magic on it, such as is in the rest of this Keep. Transformative, illusionary, mind-bending, possibly. Like much we've already encountered."

Claire murmured, "Pretty . . ." She reached for the instrument. "Lutes and flutes and flutes and lutes . . ."

Rachael said, "The tool of a bard. Or a weapon."

Shadow agreed. "Vanion plays the flute. And lutes for all I know. We'd already surmised he was a bard once, this Drakhar Knightwood. That rune means 'night' in Elvish." He looked to Claire. "We should take this."

Claire turned the flute over in her hand, her free hand patted at the pocket she had stashed the broken lute of rooms prior. "But what's special about this one that it required that altar? Was the altar to draw from it or to hold something at bay?"

Two of the tased cultists began to stir. Rachael warned the group. "We have company."

Claire narrowed her eyes at the roused cultists. She huffed. "One or none." She shoved the flute in the same pocket as the broken lute, crossing the room toward the nearest of the two cultists. "Need one with a tongue. Make 'em talk."

Zack, turned to the cultists at Claire's command. "If they have a tongue."

The second cultist, furthest from Claire, woke. His eyes opened up with a quick flutter. He rolled over and grabbed hold of a nearby knife, then started to scramble up to his feet when he saw the altar lying in shambles. He looked at Zack, and then at Claire, and finally, the other cultists. "No," he mumbled weakly.

Claire smirked at Zack as she nodded to the one on his feet. "There's our boy." She cut a path to the other cultist, seeking to get a hold of a wrist to twist an arm behind his back and keep him . . . pliable. "So, we can do this the hard way or the harder way." Zack turned to the one that was on his feet, cracking his knuckles.

"P-please . . ." the cultist stuttered, as Claire grabbed his arm. Before he could continue talking, the standing cultist, and all of the sleeping cultists, lifted their heads toward the ceiling. Their eyes rolled into the back of their heads and they screamed in a cacophonic chorus of tortured voices.

"Merde." This was from Rachael. Rumpel's fur frazzled and his tail poofed. Napoleon's ears went flat and back. Shadow charged up the ArCane. Claire did her best to hold on to the cultist's arm, but finally, she released it, and clapped her hands to her ears. Zack stalked to the one still standing, and aimed a hard jab at the jaw.

When Zack punched the standing cultist, the chorus of screams suddenly cut out in unison, and the cultist fell hard to the floor. In the time it took to take a breath, all seven cultists were mysteriously dead.

Napoleon Bonarat quipped, "Zack Alcar, man of action!"

While this battle was over, they still felt as though they were being watched. Despite this, they gathered their wits about them, and patched up whatever wounds they could. Napoleon and Rumpel comforted each other in the way only animals can, with soft purrings and chitters.

Claire spoke. "I'd like to clear out of this room unless anyone's opposed." There being no opposition, the party left the altar room behind. All was silent.
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Post by Napoleon Bonarat »

II. The Armory

To the south, A set of stone stairs led upward where the corridor seemed to dead end. The party ventured south, and arrived at the foot of the wide, stone stairway. The subtle movement of fiery glow suggested numerous torches provided the only light from above. They took the stairs slowly, which did not give them any trouble, and they soon emerged into the Overlord's keep proper.

At the top of the stairs, they found a pristine hallway that stretched north and south. Long, thick ebon drapes had been set upon most of the walls, with space left between sections of the covers to allow torches to burn dimly. To the north were two open doors; one looked to be an immaculate bathroom, while the other seemed to lead into some sort of office. To the south, another east-to-west hallway intersected with their present hallway in a four-way crossing.

Shadow murmured, "The magic is growing stronger here. Not unexpected."

Napoleon took a big sniff. "The maids have been here recently." He took another big sniff and sneezed (as he always did when doing the deep sniffing). "They did a pretty good job."

Shadow grinned. "If your employer was a murderous necromancer, you'd clean well too, Napoleon."

The party followed Claire as she turned north. A chilling breeze swept through the hall and the torches lining the wall snuffed entirely. In that moment, the path towards the bathroom and office was no longer there. In its place was a new wall and dead end, covered by the same black drapes that have been placed all around.

Rachael Douglas said, "Curiouser and curiouser."

Claire blinked a few times then huffed a breath that fluttered her bangs. "Figures." She reached out for one of the nearby drapes, trying to tug it away to see what might be behind, but found only the wall. "This whole fake doors and windows thing is annoying."

Shadow replied, "The magic of this place can change anything, including our perceptions."

Zack came to a stop when the others did, before looking around as well. He muttered, "Too bad we can't just knock a wall down."

Shadow extended his magic sensing farther, "I believe some intelligence, something, is specifically blocking us. The question is, do we allow ourselves to be herded?"

Rachael replied, "Have we not so far?"

Claire said, "The stone's too resistant to manipulation. Otherwise I would have tried." She frowned faintly. "I'm not exactly keen on being shepherded right into whatever it is . . . but I mean, any ideas?" She rapped her knuckles against the stone as she turned to return the way they came.

Shadow said, "If the Earth Keeper cannot bypass the stone, no one else can, I suspect. I have no alternative."

Rachael added, "If the stone is in fact stone, and not an illusion."

Shadow agreed. "It is not illusory to my supernatural sight."

Zack confirmed what they all suggested. "Seems to be real." He looked over the shoulder to Claire as he lingered where they had come from.

Claire nodded. "Then let's head that'a way." She indicated south.

Napoleon shrugged. "Sometimes the lab game is to go where the maker says to go." His whiskers droop a little in resignation as he thinks about a certain lab in his past and how it compared their current predicament.

Claire glanced back to Napoleon, a tight-lipped smile on her face. "No worries, little guy. Nothing's going to happen. Not on my watch."

The party arrived at a four-way intersection of two hallways of similar architecture. The intersection was void of decor beyond the heavy drapes and torches. To the east and west, the dimly lit halls seemed to turn corners to the north, with a door at the end of each stretch of corridor. To the south was a large, empty foyer and a set of massive steel double doors.

Shadow looked to Napoleon. "Have you any more of those fascinating spider gadgets?"

Napoleon replied, "Lemme check." As he rummaged in his pockets, with tiny rodent army stowaways assisting, he came up with three Hershey Kisses, a banana peel, and a Junior Mint.

Napoleon still rummaging in his pockets, asked, "How many you think we need?

Shadow answered, "If you are low on them, perhaps you should preserve them for now."

Napoleon said, "Wait. Junior Mints. That reminds me." He sets one down as an example, and it quickly morphed into a fly. Rachael's brow lifted.

Napoleon beamed at the party, "Aerial gadget. I have four!" He shrugged. "I don't know why Gadjit thought of flies when he made these mints, but . . ."

Shadow was pleased. "Excellent." He looked around, while Rumpel's every ounce of will was spent not chasing the fly. The cat was rapt in watching it.

Napoleon set out three more Junior Mints, and as they transformed, he shooed them off in the four directions before Rumpel began hunting them. The Hershey Kisses and banana peel were stuffed back into his pockets. This Caelum suit was very useful.

Shadow said, "I remember this foyer, somewhat, from days past. South should be the door outside."

Claire agreed. "So east or west?"

Shadow replied, "Much in this place seems changed, though. I wouldn't trust my memory beyond this point. East and west seem to turn to the same direction, yes?"

After several minutes, Napoleon's fly gadgets fluttered back, unharmed. The ones heading north and south returned first, reporting dead ends in both directions. The flies heading down the other hallway returned after another minute or so, reporting a number of doors, two sets of stairs heading upward, and that the two hallways wrapped around to become one again on the north side of the building.

Claire decided. "East then." She slipped down that side of the intersection.

Napoleon palmed the flies carefully, sending them down into his pockets for the rodent army to attend to. They didn't have infinite power source, but perhaps enough for another hour or so of surveillance if needed. Shadow lifted the ArCane once more to provide light. Rumpel moved along, alert for any more flies—hopefully ones he was allowed to catch! Napoleon playfully scritched Rumpel's ears, which ellicited purrs.

They headed east. They reached a ninety-degree turn in the hallway. To the north was a set of spiral stairs leading upward, while to the east sat a solid, steel door. It had a flat, horizontal handle and no lock they could notice.

Claire sighed, "Again with the doors." Stepping up to it, she put a hand against it, closing her eyes to find what she can discern from what little contact she had.

Zack came to a stop at the rear. "That'll be fun to open."

Claire found that other than the usual, it didn't seem overly off. She looked along the doorjamb. Not nearly as easy as prying an old wooden door open. First things first though, she tried to open the door the easy way, slowly using the handle.

The handle gave way to Claire, and the door swung open easily. There was no light within, but the glow of ArCane's outer sphere of light showed a room encased in steel. Littering the floor was what seemed to be an unorganized mess of weaponry. Napoleon's ears perked with interest at the room, but he wasn't quite ready to storm in.

Shadow peered into the room. "Perhaps some sort of armory for the keep's troops. Not a very well-kept one, though."

Claire pulled the door open further, quirking a brow. "Armory perhaps?" She pulled the kukri from her hip, and held it at the ready while stepping inside.

Shadow gave a wordless request that Rumpel watch the hallway, as he moved to the door to provide more ArCane light. Zack patted the familiar on the head in passing as he slowly followed the others into the room. Rachael's lips were flatlined before she too stepped inside the room, a red disc held ready.

Napoleon poked his head in cautiously, sniffing. He sensed nothing dangerous, yet he still hesitated. He looked to see if there was a gap between the floor and the door. Zack, inside, remained close to the door as he drew two throwing daggers, and looked around. All but Napoleon were now inside a spacious armory. Piles of guns and melee weapons were scattered all about the room. It all seemed standard issue at a glance.

Claire's eyes widened some, much like a kid in a candy store. Resisting the urge to snap up the weaponry, she took a cautious stroll around the steel room, leaning in to peer at the items a bit closer. Her fingertips tapped against her own weapons as a reminder to herself that she was already armed.

While Shadow checked the weaponry for magical emanations, Napoleon took a deep breath, stepping full in; in for a penny, in for a pound. His ears rotated back to hear behind him as he took in all the weapons scattered about.

The steel door shut quickly behind Napoleon, leaving them all in the dark but for ArCane's light. They quickly noticed that there was no handle on this side of the door, though there was a flatscreen monitor to the left of the door; the image of a red chalice over a black background dominated the screen. Napoleon chittered in frustration. Trapped. And he knew it before he stepped in.

Shadow murmured, "The pile over there," indicating the easternmost. "There's something magical there, separate from the keep's, I think. Confound it." He muttered as the door shut. He sent a mental urge to Rumpel to stay put for now.

Napoleon, with usual ratty instinct dropped low, sticking close to the wall.

As the door shut behind them, Zack muttered. "Damn it." He started to look around again. He moved to the now-closed door.

Claire sighed softly, shutting her eyes as she heard the door shut. "Wonderful." She grumbled under her breath and arched a brow at the monitor beside the door. One hand on her hip, she made her way over to examine it a bit closer. Shadow cautiously approached the pile of weaponry wherein he'd detected magic.

Claire began poking at the screen. When she touched the red chalice on the screen, it vanished, to be replaced by the number 10. Napoleon facepalmed, then put his respirator on.

The number on the screen changed to 9. Then 8.

Claire poked desperately at the screen. "Stop that!" The image of the red chalice reappeared. Nothing else seemed to happen.

Shadow and Rachael too slipped on their respirators. Shadow watched the magical pile of weapons like a hawk. "Guard yourselves." His voice was muffled voice through respirator.

Rachael took her usual stance to guard Napoleon. Napoleon had great friends.

Claire huffed softly once the screen changed back, throwing a sheepish half smile toward the group once the countdown stopped. "Let's see what else we can find." Her gaze shifted toward the odd magical pile that Shadow had pointed out, slowly approaching it.

Napoleon took his respirator off; putting it on in the first place was a knee-jerk reaction, as he was expecting to be gassed or something equally awful. He wasn't going to share why he might have had that reaction. Instead, he had a big whiskery smile, a sheepish slant to it, and he remained close to the wall.

Zack, also a good friend, didn't think twice about Napoleon's reaction, and instead chalked it up to quick thinking. Ever vigilant, he kept an eye on the others as he began to search for a way out.

Shadow used the butt of his cane to move the pile a bit. "There's something at the bottom here."

The guns on top of the pile shifted easily with Shadow's prodding. None of them seemed to be loaded, with their ammunition strewn about the rest of the room in boxes. At the bottom of the pile was a rusty-looking dagger.

Shadow pointed out the rusty dagger. "That. Magical."

Napoleon asked, "Good magical, bad magical, neutral magical? Made for little rats magical? Err, I mean, big rats?" He huffed up a bit in a brief superhero pose, showing he wasn't scared at all . . . while still sticking close to the wall.

Claire crinkled her nose. "Lovely." Using the toe of her boot, she nudged the dagger with her foot, trying to drag it out some from under the various items. The dagger moved as though it followed the standard laws of physics, which is more than they could say for much of the keep around them.

Shadow grinned, and extended his senses as thoroughly as possible now that he could see the thing. He said, "It's powerful . . . I'm having difficulty getting anything too specific. Ah, a moment . . ." He paused, eyes closed. "Something transformative, and it seems to be blessed against . . . dragonkind. It does not seem to be evil. Perhaps it is indeed meant for big rats."

The dragonkind comment got Zack to look towards Shadow. "Yeah. Keep it away from me."

Claire grinned a bit. "Don't touch it, Zackie."

Napoleon looked at the dagger. "Who can fight a dragon?" A sideways glance at Zack. "That isn't Zack? That's the best person to have it. Though I have room in my pockets for it."

Claire said, "I , um, usually let Odin handle the dragons." She crinkled her nose some but nodded to Napoleon.

Shadow encouraged the rat. "Try picking it up, Napoleon. As I said, I sense no evil."

Zack smirked to Claire, then smirked to Napoleon as he went back to trying to figure out how to open the door . . . without trying to rip it down. Noise and all.

Napoleon slowly reached, his tail still touching the wall. Shadow watched closely as Napoleon tentatively touched it, then jerked his paw back as if shocked. He touched it tentatively again. When he touched the dagger more confidently, a voice spoke inside his mind, sounding somewhat similar to Rakeesh (or James Earl Jones), though Napoleon was sure that it was the dagger itself.

"Choose my form, Napoleon Bonarat," it echoed in the space between his furry ears. His eyebrow whiskers shot straight up, the dagger was now fully in his grasp, and he turned to the group to tell them the story the dagger just told him.

Rachael's brow was up. "Choose wisely, capitan."

Napoleon blinked. "Oh. Wow. I don't know. Any ideas? I think it should look like it wants to look."

Breathing was starting to become slightly more difficult here. They realized that there was no outside source of oxygen in the armory. At a guess, breathing would become impossible on their own within the next half an hour.

Shadow's lips tightened. "We do not have too much time. Claire?"

Claire tugged a bit at her combat suit and shook her head. "Nappy's got an idea with the looking like it wants to look. Or something that can get us out of this room . . ."

Shadow agreed. "I say it's worth a try, if you're willing, Napoleon."

A few moments after Napoleon's words, the rusty dagger turned into a prism of color and light. Slowly, it began to shift and change shape. It was no longer a dagger, but a rat-sized cutlass with an ivory handle and a shining, clean steel blade.

Napoleon was surprised and elated. "SHINY! It chose shiny! A handsome heroic blade!" He gave it a compliment.

Rachael admired the cutlass. "Oui, appropriate, non?"

Shadow grinned. "Does it happen to know how to get out of this room?"

Napoleon's new cutlass spoke in his head, "I am yours, for now. Together, we will exterminate any dragons who stand in our way!"

Claire muttered as she headed back to the door. "Dragons like shiny."

Zack's brow rose for a moment and shook his head. "Already tried pushing on it." Claire nodded to Zack and then kicked a well-placed boot for the edge of the door, about where it would latch shut. It was worth a try.

Napoleon said matter-of-factly, "Don't worry, Zack. This cutlass knows better than to mess with you." Though he was a little concerned about the potential foreshadowing.

"I hope so," Zack patiently replied as he moved to let Claire have some room.

Shadow said, "We were warned of a 'dragon in the garden' in the note." Napoleon gulped, and moved out of the way so Claire could have it out with the door.

Claire was frustrated. It was like kicking a brick wall. Or steel. Yeah, that. It wouldn't budge and she shook her head, eyeing the panel on the side once more. "Any ideas?" Not wanting to poke at it again for fear of setting it off.

Shadow suggested, "Let's secure this weaponry and set off that . . . monitor, maybe?"

Claire nodded her agreement with Shadow. "Seems like the best course of action." Zack nodded his agreement as well and moved to help with securing the weapons.

While they all secured the weapons, Napoleon shared with the group what the cutlass was telling him. "The cutlass hadn't left this room since Sir Kraven was murdered and he was stolen by the necromancer. He also says the necromancer shapes this place at his will. But we kinda figured that out, I think. The necromancer is Vanion, right?" He scratched his tummy, "Who's Sir Kraven?"

"I've not heard the name, that I recall." Shadow said as he was quick to disable/unload guns, first, then secure the remaining weapons together with some rope.

Rachael said, "Nor I."

Zack said, "Don't ask me. Not keen on the history of Rhy'Din and such."

Claire's voice was full of venom. "Yeah, well I've got a few choice words for the necromancer." She resisted the urge to pocket ammo, and shook her head. She looked to Napoleon. "Can you ask it who Sir Kraven is?"

Napoleon again shared what the cutlass imparted. "He was sent here by his liege lord to kill the witch that lives here. He was trapped by the necromancer and died alone, below the keep. Poor guy." His whiskers drooped slightly. "Thank you, cutlass. By the way, do you have a name?"

Claire's brow perked as she mused, "Sir Kraven . . . perhaps the gent we found downstairs?"

Zack said at the same time, "Maybe that was who we found in that one room." He chuckled.

The cutlass told Napoleon, "You could not hope to pronounce my name. So, you may call me Mac."

Napoleon gave off a chitter laugh, "OK Mac it is!" Then to Zack and Claire, "I think you are right about who that dead guy was."

Their breath was becoming more labored. The quality of the air here was quickly turning bad. Claire glanced back toward the group as a whole before she reached a hand up to press a single finger to the screen.

"Shall we try the monitor again?" Slowly this time, she held her fingertip to the screen to see if anything changed right off the bat. The red chalice vanished and was replaced by the number 10.

Napoleon quickly tried a pass phrase. "Exit." The number changed to 9.

Claire She swiped her finger to one side. "Open." The swipe didn't seem to do anything, and the door remained shut. The number changes to 8.

The number changes to 7. Claire poked the screen a single time. The number vanished and returned to the image of the red chalice.

Napoleon said to the room at large, "Vanion, let us out, please."

Zack muttered. "Nappy. Don't beg."

Rachael's shielded gaze flicked from the screen to Napoleon.

Napoleon protested but was also grinning, "I was asking nicely! Cutting to the chase!"

Shadow smirked toward Napoleon. "Worth a try. I think we have no choice but to let the countdown continue."

Zack gave a light smile to Napoleon again.

Claire was trying to be optimistic. "Maybe it'll open at zero." She touched the screen once. The red chalice on the monitor screen vanished and was replaced by the number 10.

Zack nodded to Claire. "Seems to be our only choice."

Napoleon said, "Mac has something to say." 'The Foul One enjoys his little mind games. But, if he wished you to be trapped forever, I doubt that you would have found me here.' "

The number changed to 9.

The number changed to 8.

The number changed to 7.

Shadow marshalled his energies, preparing to erect a sorcerous shield around the group if hurtful things began happening. ArCane's tip glowed brightly. Claire's fingertip hovered just above the screen, just in case.

The number changed to 6. Napoleon leaned against Zack's leg for comfort.

The number changed to 5. The room suddenly filled with a wash of crimson light. Claire held her breath. Zack patted the top of Napoleon's head.

The number changed to 4. Napoleon's ears were flat and back, close to his head.

The number changed to 3.

The number changed to 2. The steel walls of the room began to shake violently.

The number changed to 1.

The number changed to 0. The crimson lights vanished, and the walls stopped shaking. A moment passed and there was an audible CLICK, and the armory door opened with an easy swing.

"Well that was anti-climatic," Zack remarked once the door opened and he moved to grab hold of it. Just in case.

Claire narrowed her gaze and exhaled. A few choice words were muttered under her breath and she slipped out of the armory, sucking in much needed fresh air. Rachael with her respirator still in place, strode out of the room with Claire.

Shadow commented after the shaking stopped, "Well, they already knew we were here anyway." He was checking around for Rumpel, who was very pleased to see them, a very kittenish mew emerging from the big kitty.

Napoleon's ears were back up, his black eyes glinting, whiskers twitching. He marched out after the others, clearly annoyed. "Vanion is such a jerk sometimes."
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Claire Gallows
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Post by Claire Gallows »

Part Three

I. The Barracks


Still grumbling under her breath, Claire very quickly shifted her path for the north after exiting the armor, heading for the spiral staircase leading up. Her mutters might have been outlining in intricate detail just what she'd do to Vanion if she got her hands on him. The team fell back into line behind her and she lead the way the light from Shadow’s ArCane casting an almost comforting glow around them. The corridor continued to stretch north and south there, bending westward around a corner in each direction. The black drapes and torches were still present, as was a spiral staircase that leads up into the darkness above. On the eastern wall hung a vibrant painting depicting Rakeesh the liontaur, looking down upon the city of Rhy'Din below through a window of what appeared to be some sort of flying ship, blood dripping freely from his snarling maw. Behind her, she could hear Zack muttering in much the same fashion as she had been and little Napoleon Bonarat speaking quietly to Mac to rapier.

“Are there any more items like you to help us?” The piRATe asked softly as their footsteps continued down the corridor and toward the stairs.

“I do not know, Napoleon Bonarat. I have not seen more of this Keep than you have, most certainly." Came Mac’s reply in much the same fashion.

“Well, if you sense anymore beings like you, don't hesitate to let us know!” Napoleon returned just in time for him to catch sight of the painting, his ears flattening back close to his head. A subtle shift from Rachael had the Watchwoman’s hand tensing on the latest disc in her grip.

“From Rakeesh's time as Overlord perhaps, when Vanion possessed him? Curious. I'd judge him to be on the Phaross Max.” Shadow hypothesized distantly before refocusing on their journey instead. Claire’s gaze lingered on the darkness at the top of the stair case and she shook her head gently.

“We can go up or move forward. Typically I'd wanna clear it a floor at a time, but...I don't know up from down in here. Methodical only works in a static layout." She murmured before nodding to input from Zack and Rachael, bypassing the spiral staircase and continuing North in hopes of clearing a single level and eliminating any threats that could bite them in the rear. They reached another bend in the hall. A large set of wooden double-doors was inset upon the eastern wall, with a plaque beside it that read: "The Grand Library". However, a foreign, yellow rune floated before the door. From there, the hall bent westward to another set of double-doors set into its north wall, those made of glass. Shadow quickly identified the rune in the door.

“Sunrise, or perhaps light, is the closest meaning in Common. It is akin to the rune on the flute you carry, Claire.” He reported with a glance to the others. Claire was quick to pat down her pockets for the flute founded previously, but the tome in front of the door resisted any manipulation by hand or flute. Rumpel had gone off to investigate the glass doors down the hallway.

“What’s the big cat got for us?” Claire glanced aside to Shadow then down the hallway.

“Rumpel's seen something interesting through the glass doors. A sunlit garden, with runes warding the doors: three. One for 'night' like the flute's, one for 'day' as this one here, and a different, red rune meaning something like 'sunset'. And, it's night outside, which makes a sunlit garden odd. 'Dragon in the garden'…” Shadow closed his eyes to access the sight link between himself and the cat. Claire blanched slightly, shaking her head.

"That's where we're needed. The garden...." She murmured softly, gaze trained down the hallway toward the glass doors before slowly heading toward it. Claire came to a stop at the doors, hesitation evident in her expression. “If that note was right, and we run into some big beastie out here, be ready. I don't think it'll be something nice like Icer." A hand reached for the door only to find herself warded off by something akin to the rune that kept them out of the library. Torches lit the walls there, but sunlight streamed in from the glass doors to the north. Beyond laid a lush, colorful-looking garden filled with various exotic plant-life and ivory statues of elves. “We’re missing pieces I think.”

“Hm.. Well, as to missing pieces, we did not take the other hallway leading here. Perhaps we missed something that way?” Shadow offered, prompting murmured agreement from Rachael, Zack, and Claire. Claire stowed the flute for safe keeping, certain that it was part one of three to access the doorway. Heading back the way they came, she made her way back for the intersection and hopefully the other hallway before long. They passed by the Library, the armory, and return to the four-way intersection without incident. Taking the westward passage next, from there, and before long they reach a solid, wooden door. The hall turned northwards at a ninety degree angle from there, and they saw a spiral stairwell identical to the one on the eastern side of the building off to the north.

“Shall we?” Claire sighed heavily and nodded toward the door.

"Oui. Beware of screens, or doors that open only from the outside." Rachael agreed.
“Let's see about not getting trapped in this one, if we can. I'll stay by the door and try to prevent it closing. If it does.” Shadow gave the party leader a nod. Claire reached for the door and gave it a twist, pushing it open. Beyond the doorway were soldiers' barracks. Around a large, round, wooden table sat half a dozen soldiers, playing cards. The one closest to the door may have overheard their talking, because he was already pointing his gun towards the door when Claire opens it. He opened fire immediately with the handgun striking Claire in the shoulder with his first shot! She grimaced and stumbled back half a step, gritting her teeth through the shooting pain that ripped through her shoulder. She yanked her rifle from the opposite shoulder and swung it up hurriedly to fire it into the crowd of soldiers.

The other soldiers startle at the sound and drop their cards to reach for guns of their own. Startled, Napoleon dropped to the ground and Rachael exchanged discs in her hand before flinging it toward the group of soldiers. Upon contact, the grenade exploded to send a fragmentation round in a five foot range. Shadow followed with a fireball blasted into the room from the ArCane. Zack added to the mix with his own fire power and chaos ensued where calm was but a moment before. The two soldiers at the far side of the table quickly flipped the table over and ducked behind it. Another dove to the side at the coming onslaught of bullets, grenade and fireball. The three closest to the door, however, were caught in the barrage and were incinerated in a moment. Napoleon tossed a handful of jelly beans inside, which once they start flying turned into mechanical wasps with functional stingers.

After the immediate exchange, two of the soldiers popped up momentarily over the top of the flaming table to return fire. The first missed wide with a clumsy spray of bullets, but the second managed to catch Rachael in the leg with a shotgun round as she banks a disc off the walls to land behind the overturned table. A moment later, the second grenade goes off, and the two covered mercenaries scream as they burn alive. The final mercenary couldn’t be seen by the party, however, Napoleon's wasps zipped through the doorway in search of him.

"Oi. No, no, nn-!", a voice shouted from within the room after a moment, and then goes silent. Smoke plumes and drifts through the doorway, and the fire in the barracks begin to spread through the room. Amid the smoke and flames, the Keeper of Fire commanded his element to desist and so it did. Claire had dropped to a knee to steady herself, grimacing as she kept the rifle level. The flames and napalm and other blasts had put off quite the heat and she had edged back before catching sight of Rachael and ducked over toward her.
“How bad are your wounds?” Shadow asked with a look between the two women. Rachael too had dropped to her uninjured knee with the round to her opposite leg. An oath in fluent French left her lips. From the sound of it, the parentage of the attackers five generations back was questioned.

"Painful, perhaps treatment would be indicated, for ease of movement." Dry as the Isle sands, her tone. Belying the wound from the round which tore through the armor in her leg. A rhetorical question perhaps, as he murmured soft words and touched the ArCane first to Rachael's leg, then Claire's shoulder, in turn.

"Can't we just burn this place down and call it good." Claire’s rhetorical question is muttered under her breath as Shadow does his thing eliciting a ratty grin from Nappy. The smoke within the barracks slowly cleared, the explosions and fire having done quite a job. From outside, they could see many beds with guns and ammunition stashed beneath them. Clay poker chips were scattered across the floor, though not much else remains of the set. A few pornographic magazines lay on the bed closest to the door. The final soldier was nowhere to be seen at this angle and Napoleon's wasps return after a few moments, all but one. Inside, they saw the inert final soldier, alive. The barracks were a mess, more akin to those of sloppy mercenaries than well-organized soldiers. Claire approached the young man cautiously and jostled him lightly with the butt of her rifle.

"We need to do something about him...can't have him waking up and coming after us. With others. Think we can learn anything from him or should we knock him harder and go?" She spoke over her shoulder to Rachael and Shadow who flanked her.

“A little first aid, and some good bindings, including muffling him, would be my vote.” Came Shadow’s opinion on the matter. The soldier's finger twitched, but he didn't otherwise move. His eyes shifted, though, and his head lulled to the left. He was young. Too young. His brown-eyed gaze fell upon one of the corpse of the fried soldier who had been wielding the shotgun that blasted Rachael. Tears began to well up in the corner of his eyes, but he didn’t move further. A handgun lay a couple of feet away from where he was, prompting a sweep of a foot from Claire to nudge it out of reach. Her jaw tightened some as she took a closer look at the young man. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she glances back to Shadow then down to the soldier.

"We tie him up, sedate him if possible. Come back for him after and see if we can't...get him out of here, you know?" Easing up with the rifle, she stands upright and turns to face Shadow, speaking in a quiet whisper.

"P-please", the young man spat out, softly. "He'll kill me. If I fail. Just. Lemme go. I'll walk out th-the. The front door. There's a boat. A raft. I'll go b-back to the city. I ...", he stuttered, before looking back to the badly burned body. He swallows hard. "I never wanted this." Rather than let him have his wish, Shadow knelt beside him and gently charmed him to sleep. Facing away from the young man, Claire visibly winced, her teeth clamping down on her bottom lip to let Shadow take care of him. Crossing the room, she grabbed ahold of the charred remains of the table, dragging it over to shield the boy from view from anyone doing a cursory check of the room. The barracks were cleared soon after and they continued on their way.
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Claire Gallows
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Post by Claire Gallows »

II: The Kitchen

As the party headed north along the black-draped corridor, they passed by another painting. This one depicted the blue trouper-robed elf that looks almost identical to Vanion, running through a forest at twilight. By the tilt of his body, and his frantic expression, he was moving at breakneck pace. In his arms was the body of a child, burned as badly as the soldiers they had left behind in the barracks. Soon enough, they reached another set of spiral stairs, leading upward into the darkness. The hall stretched northwards, where there was another door, before it bent eastward once more. They came to a stop at the doors, a set of swinging double doors with no discernable handles. Claire pressed her index finger to her lips to quiet the crew, not wishing for a repeat of the barracks.

On the northern wall was another painting, of the same elf, in the same clothes, kneeling down within what appears to be a crypt. Before him was the body of the burnt child lying on the dirt, and beyond that - a massive, twisted face. The face seemed unrealistic, not attached to a body, and demonic in nature. The elf's forehead was lying in the dirt, his fists clenched. Shadow paused to study it while Claire investigated the safety of what seemed to be a kitchen or dining area.

"Mmh, food." She sniffed and nodded to Nappy, the piRATe’s keen sniffer having picked up on the scents before they even reached the doors. Looking toward the painting, she looks over the demonic face in the picture, her gaze instinctively avoiding what seemed to be the mourning elf. Ever so slowly, she pressed a hand to the left hand swinging door. Inside was a lavish dining hall with a warm stone hearth. Black drapes hung everywhere, and a long banquet table had been set out in the center of the room. A wine cart rested against the wall nearest to it, and on the table itself was a veritable feast set for seven. Freshly cooked and cut meats had been set out on each plate, with extra helpings available in the middle of the table. On the western side of the dining hall appeared to be a swinging door that lead into the kitchen with a small, round glass portal set into it at eye level.

"Let's split and cover more ground, keep an eye out for anything that would make sense for those glass doors. Runes, whatever. I'd avoid the food too." Claire nodded, heading further into the dining hall, ignoring a blatant growl from her stomach. A crash sounded from the kitchen during the party's search, which failed to uncover any evidence that this dining room was anything other than what it appeared to be. Claire edged toward the kitchen door just in time to hear that crash. Drawing her hand up, an amber light pulsed in her palm as she gathered earthen energy, ready to fire at a moment's notice as she neared the eye level port hole window. Once more the rest of the party reformed behind her and she exhaled a soft breath of relief. There was a certain comfort in having people at your back. Her brows rose and she turned to give a quick gesture to the rest of them to quiet. A single finger held up to indicate the person within as she inched toward the kitchen more. The amber light in her palm shifted to a baby blue color as she altered the energy, a calming enchantment that she fired off as she eased the swinging door open.

"Wha'?" As the door swung open, within was a well-stocked, clean kitchen beyond. A burly chef stood with his back to the party, an average butcher's knife in hand. He swayed a little on his feet, looking woozy, most likely from Claire's enchantment followed by a banging sound. "Who th' hell're you?", a voice grumbles out from within the kitchen.

"That doesn't matter. I heard you drop that. What makes you think that'll do hmm? I oughta report back to the Overlord and tell him what you've done." Spotted, she coughs to clear her throat before opening the door and striding in confidently. This would either go really well or really poorly.

“You tell 'im, boss!” Napoleon played into it much to Claire’s relief. The chef takes a step back when Claire enters, and begins to look less confused. When she mentions Vanion, a look of panic enters his eyes, and his gaze darts between the party.

"P-please. Ain't tell'em nothin'. Have'a seat. Have some food! The Lord's guests are my guests!" He lowered the knife and pleaded, peeking past the party towards the dining room beyond. Maintaining the air of confident authority, Claire looked down her nose at the cook, staring him down for a long moment as if she's contemplating.

"I'm feeling nice today. But just this once." She said finally. A pair of loud bangs against the walk-in freezer on the other side of the kitchen from the chef, however prompted a fair amount of concern. She arched a brow, her hand closing around the handle of a skillet, pulling it out of view as she kept her eyes on the chef. "Yeah, whatcha got in there anyways?" A nod toward the freezer.

"What the hell's 'at?", he said, looking over towards the walk-in, looking startled at the sound. "Just ale!", he proclaimed. The large man gulped once, then sprinted towards the kitchen door, attempting to take a vicious swing at Claire with his butcher's knife.

"I don't believe you. You walk your happy ass over--" Cut off, she yelped and swung the skillet at the man when he came at her. Rachael and Shadow were quick to act as well, firing their own brands of punishment upon the man. The knife connected with the skillet and the former fell from the chef’s hand just as Shadow’s fire caught him in the chest, dropping him to the ground where he howled in pain. Rachael’s taser field landed a moment after and the man flopped around on the floor like a fat fish. As the chaos settled, the chef lay unconscious upon the floor and a faint whimper came from the freezer. Zack made it to the freezer door first and slowly pulled it open, taking care in case whatever lay within wasn’t friendly.

The freezer door pulled open to show the scene beyond. At the edge of the door was a young human girl with mousy brown hair, wrapped in a crimson table linen. He knuckles were broken and bloody and her cheeks were red and puffy from crying. Beyond her hang half a dozen meat-hooks from the ceiling. From them dangle an equal number of horrible sights. Humanoids of several races hang from the hooks; they were not entirely dead. They grasped for the girl as well as they can, but could not free themselves of the hooks they hang on. The zombies moaned hungrily when they saw the newcomers. It's then that they could tell something else: the zombies were not whole. Partial limbs have been removed, chunks from their guts, their backs, their thighs have been stripped in a manner that suggests clean, meticulous cutting. The floor was washed in unclean ichor, and it pooled beneath the girl's feet. She looked up at them with a certain emptiness in her eyes. The girl began to crawl slowly out of the pool of ichor in the freezer, and it was then that the odor hit them. She carried it with her through the portal but didn't make it far, curling up at Zack's feet. She stared up at the ceiling with wide eyes.

"Oh my gods..." Claire faltered, her eyes widening as she looked upon the girl before moving forward and toward her. "Come here, sweetheart. Let's get you out of the cold." She tried to coax the girl further from the freezer, avoiding focusing on the nastiness behind the girl. The girl neither moved nor resisted movement. Behind her, the undead continued to try and get their hands on Zack. Claire her breath to avoid the nasty smell, her eyes watering. "Who put you in there?" She softly asked the girl, taking a knee beside her.

“Claire...her mind is broken, if my senses are correct.” Shadow’s grim words infiltrated the boiling anger rising in Claire’s mind. The girl didn’t answer Claire directly, but instead turned her head just enough to look towards the unconscious chef nearby, mute sobs racked her body soon after.

"Here, we're going to move you. I promise I won't hurt you." Claire swallowed hard and nodded to the girl, shifting slowly so as not to startle her. She nodded and shifted her hands to try and scoop the girl up and take her away from the freezer. The girl offered no resistance nor aid but whispered softly to Zack who in turn spoke quietly back. She doesn't answer Zack. She merely continues staring off, distantly, though she does absent-mindedly wrap her arms around Claire's neck. Claire held the girl close, a gentle rock with each step taken. "Sweetheart, I need you to be brave for me. Have you ever played hide and seek? We're going to hide you and we'll come find you when it's safe." She nodded down at the girl, seeking out the pantry while Shadow bound the snaggletoothed chef.

"I'm guessing the cook is the one that put her in there, just by the look she gave him." Zack said softly, then moved on to what had been said by the little girl. "She was put in there to make her afraid for a ritual." Claire found the pantry, pausing to let Napoleon offer a gold foiled chocolate coin. Rachael added to the mix with an energy bar as Rumpel padded into the kitchen and up to the waif-like girl.

"This big kitty's name is Rumpel. He's nice, I promise. You hang out with him, okay?" The reassuring smile was rather convincing Claire hoped and she stood up, backing out of the pantry, intending to shut any doors she could to guard the girl. Rumpel scooted his fuzzy extent into the pantry with the girl. He did not seem to ask Shadow's permission at any point, which sealed it.

"We'll all be dead by the mornin'. Just like m'Ma", she says to Claire as she leaves her behind in the pantry, matter-of-factly and void of emotion, only slightly louder than before. "After the ritchool. Everything'll be dead by the mornin'." Then, the girl lays her head down on the metal panel of the pantry and stares blankly forward at Rumpel.

Claire stifled the sigh that threatened to pass her lips as she turned away from the girl with a great amount of uncertainty. It took a moment or two to regain her composure but eventually she lifted her chin and nodded to those present. "Moving on." She said softly and looked to Shadow. A nod to that. "Only way to go, really." The zombies in the freezer were dispatched next thanks to the collaboration of Rachael’s napalm discs and Shadow’s domain over fire and they took their leave from the kitchen and dining room soon after.
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Claire Gallows
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Post by Claire Gallows »

III. Upstairs

They sought out the spiral staircases next, confident that the ground level had been suitably cleared. Claire eyed the spiral staircase before them and headed for the steps, holding her breath at the bottom and taking a testing step onto the first stair. With a nod once she was more confident of her footing, up she went. The climb took several minutes as the stairwell seemed to twist and spiral more than what seems natural. No torch-light flickered there, and only the dull glow of ArCane lit the way. Finally, though, the party reached the second story of the Keep. There, the walls were a mute grey color, dulled further by the lack of light. To the east, the small corridor intersected with another.

It was even quieter up there than it was below, if that was possible. They reached a four-way intersection of identical walls. The corridor to the north seemed to end a ways off in what looked to be a wooden door from there. To the east, they could see the top of another flight of stairs, leading downward. The corridor stretched southwards as well, but they couldn’t make out what was that way. The corridor ended at a single wooden doorway to the north. The door appeared to be unlocked. There was a gap beneath the door, several inches tall, but no light spilled forth. On the western wall, a word had been scrawled in what they guessed, at a glance, to be a pastel crayon: "EVERYTHING". On the eastern wall, another word had been scrawled, similarly: "THAT". Napoleon dropped low to see if he could see anything under the gap and sent a few explorer flies into the darkness. After several minutes, it still hadn’t returned.

"Everything that. That everything." Claire said softly, eyeing the door. "Much like the others, have we any choice? Our last item may be waiting back there." Another quiet lament meant for the group's ears as she took a step forward and put a hand up to feel for anything beyond the Keep's magic, in particular signs of danger. With a faint nod, her hand shifted for the door handle in an attempt to gently open the door. Her opposite hand raised in a defensive manner with a spell at the ready. The door swung open. Beyond was only shadow. Nothing ominous had come out of the dark yet but hand still at the ready, she squinted into the shadows. Amidst conversation about the integrity of the door, a hand patted for the pry bar along her leg and she freed it to offer it back to whoever would take it. "Wedge it in the jam just in case." Looking back into the dark, she takes another step forward.

Claire lead the entire party through the open and propped doorway and into the darkness before. Once the entire party moved into the chamber, the door disappeared entirely behind you, only to be replaced by a cold, stony wall. ArCane's light struggled to breach the encroaching darkness of this massive chamber. After a moment, ArCane was snuffed, suddenly, and they were left in pitch blackness. Even the night vision goggles were wholly ineffective in the pitch black. Worrisome. After a few minutes in the dark, a black flame lights against a far off wall. It burns eerily, lit from a simple-looking wooden torch that seems fixed to the wall there.

Muttering a curse in another tongue, Zack lowered his hand. "These shadows aren't normal. I can't do anything with them." Relayed to the others.

“Zack, perhaps if we combined our magic we could fight it” Shadow offered. Nappy's report confirmed that the room was vast. The elf moved close to Zack, and 'pushed' with the ArCane's light against the darkness, aiming his will toward the black flame. ArCane's light pierced two feet of darkness, then sputtered out once more.

Tipping her head to one side, Claire eyed the torch and took a single step toward it. "It'll fight you on it until we go where it wants." She sighed, not looking back at the others. And another step, then another, and soon she was wandering right toward it.

“Claire, a moment. What of the flute, with the rune for 'Night'?” Shadow quipped.

Shadow's words feel distant but she pulls the flute from her pocket and gives it a little wave. "I've got it. Suggestions?"

“Play a note. Or, I will.” He called to her. She's hesitant to put her lips on the item but what choice did she have other than fumbling in the dark to try and find Shadow again. Lifting it to her mouth, she took and breath and made an attempt at playing a single note. No sound came from the flute when Claire blew air through it. Instead, the black-flame torch rose from the wall. When it does so, a depression that it rested on rises, and the doorway behind them reappeared as though it had never vanished. The torch itself floated across the chamber, fighting back shadows around it. It levitated towards Claire, then stops just before her, lingering in the air.

Anyone seen Finding Nemo? Claire felt like Dory and Marlin when they're lead by the angler fish. Pulling the flute from her lips, she chuckled softly. Eyeing the torch, she reached out to see if it would allow her to take hold of it. "Huh." She said softly, tilting her head and turning back toward the group, torch in hand. "Flame off." Out went the light. "Flame on." Poof, there it was again.

“Excellent, Claire. That torch is not true flame, but tied to the Keeps' magics.” Shadow offered his insight on the matter. Claire nodded her understanding and swept a look around the room once more. Holding the torch up high, she hoped for some sort of guidance but really just felt like the Statue of Liberty. The black flame lit the room, but beyond round, rock-hewn walls with no corners, there was nothing else that appeared interesting here.

"While I feel we've found a tool, I think that's all we'll find here." Claire swept a look around the room but slowly headed back toward the door. Leaving the room, they continued on their way down the corridor once more, Claire having passed the torch to the elf in the middle of the pack who wielded it aloft with his ArCane as well. The party moved down the southern corridor. Further along, they saw the vague outline of a 'T' intersection ahead of them. On the western wall, another word had been scribbled in what appears to be crayon: "RISES". A word scrawled onto the eastern wall read, "MUST".

"Everything that rises must... fall?" Rachael pondered.

"Everything that rises must..." Claire said softly, tilting her head. "Everything that rises must converge?" Feeling like she had read that in Noctis’s library once upon a time. While Claire contemplated the words, Shadow slipped to the front of the group, content to lead with the torch. The party progressed south, reaching a 'T' intersection. On the southern wall was scrawled another word, larger than the rest: "CONVERGE". From there, a corridor lead east and west, while north lead back the way you came.

"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge." Claire intoned quietly, reciting something she was certain she'd once heard. "Ascension is such a funny thing..." Once more they came to a stop, this time at a simple wooden door at the end of the hallway.

Shadow couched the ArCane under an arm so that he could open the door with push or by knob, as needed. The door swung open, its hinges squeaking in protest. Beyond, there was only darkness. It seemed to shift and move, like a living thing, confined to the inside of the room before you. Shadow dipped the black torch flame past the door itself, into the room, testingly. The shadows shrank immediately, and the black-flame torch's light grew once it was pressed into the room. A purple wash lights the small room beyond. It was empty, besides a couch on its right wall covered with a white sheet. A boarded window lay on the far wall, with a small object upon it. The left wall was one solid mirror, but they couldn't quite see it from their angle.

The party moved into the small room beyond. On the far wall rested a copper flute upon the window sill, forlorn. Here, they could see into the mirror on the northern wall. It didn’t show their reflection. Instead, they were looking down at an overhead angle at what appears to be Old Market. However, this is not the Old Market that they knew. Stalls had been ransacked and burned to the ground, and nearby buildings had been demolished. A slow stream of dead walk the streets, mindlessly. A desolate and bleak future it seemed. Rachael retrieved the flute from the sill to look it over.

"These are the stakes." Claire crinkled her nose at the talk of alternate timelines but she looked upon the reflection with some amount of stoic indifference.

“Do not let possibilities affect your courage.” Shadow’s advice proved valuable.

"All the more reason that we must press forward and take him down." Claire said quietly and took the flute from Rachael, slipping it into the same pocket as the other before leading the way out of the room and back into the hallway. The corridor came to a dead end on the western side of the hall. Another simple wooden door lay on the southern wall, though this one seemed better built; it did not have much of a gap at its base. They could see a soft light filtering through what little gap is there, however. Claire pressed a finger to her lips to indicate the need to be quiet, pointing out the faint bit of light they could see. She almost chuckled softly when she hears Shadow use the 'flame off' command but kept her composure and much like before drew a hand up defensively while the other lifted to 'feel' out the door's magicks. Left hand still ready to draw a shielding spell up at a moment's notice, her right hand went slowly and carefully for the door handle.
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Claire Gallows
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Post by Claire Gallows »

IV: Molly

Claire pushed open the door and exposed the room beyond. It appeared to be a child's bedroom. Toys of various sorts lie in messy piles upon the floor. The walls had been drawn on by crayon, with bright, imaginative colors. On the far side of the room was a window; beyond, it appeared to be a beautiful, sunny day - although they knew it to be quickly approaching the dead of night. Between the door and the window was a four poster bed with pink and orange linens and fluffy pillows. On it, with her back facing you, sat a young girl - not yet a teenager - playing with a doll atop the covers. Sunshine reflected off of her from the window, giving a slight glow to her ivory skin, and making her hair shine golden.

The little girl slipped off of the bed and turns towards the door once it opens. She stared at Claire with curious, violet eyes, without fear. When she stepped forward, out of the sunlight, they realized that her hair is a soft auburn, and not golden at all. She craned her neck and peeked at the party standing behind Claire. Claire squinted in the false light, steeling her mind and taking a cautious step past the room's threshold. One hand up still, she gave a tightlipped smile to the girl. "H-hello."

"Hello", the girl answered calmly. "Are you here to kill the bad man?"

“Let me handle this.” Shadow said quietly, setting a hand to Claire’s shoulder. She glances back at the rest of the crew then back to the girl. Plastering on a calm smile despite her anxiety she leveled her gaze and stepped to one side as Shadow came forward. He slid past her to assume the head of the group. “What bad man?”

"They call him Drakhar", she answered Shadow. Her gaze dropped down with her chin, and she stared longingly at a toy doll lying on the floor. She brushed some of her auburn hair away from the side of her face, exposing a pointed, elvish ear. "He made me this way."

“We are here to end his bad actions, yes.” Shadow reassured her. “Made you a ghost?”

She nodded, very maturely for her age, then looked back up to the party. She smiled, very faintly. "Made me dead. I'm glad you're here to stop him. He talks to me a lot. I wish he'd just let me sleep."

“Can you help us find him? Do you know where he is?” Kneeling to the girl's eye level, Shadow kept the ArCane and sword lowered to the sides. Claire was grinding her teeth if the tension along her jaw was any indication. Her wary gaze remained upon Shadow and the girl, listening for the time being but not at all at ease.

The young, elvish girl begins to weep, in a surprisingly dignified manner. She swallows harder than one has to when one is an incorporeal spirit, then tucks her chin towards her chest. "I'll help you stop him. I know everything. H-he. He tells me everything."

“A friend told me you were here, and could help us. What can you tell us?” Letting the astute eyes of the group watch out for shenanigans, the elf focused entirely on the elven ghost.

The ghost stepped backwards and hopped up onto the corner of her bed. Her eyebrows scrunched up tightly. Then, she began to think out loud. "He's not here. He's gone to some secret place to do his ritual. I know that there's a portal in the garden. And that the garden's warded. He's made this place his. It is what he wants it to be."

“Has he told you about the ritual?” Shadow asked, nodding Nappy toward the doll that the girl seemed intent upon. Her eyes, red in their corners, fall upon Napoleon as he squats over the doll. Her lips part in a more full, if only fleeting smile. Then, she answers Shadow's newest question. She seems to think hard, trying to process what she knows, and sounding very confused at the same time.

"Yeah. He ... he's crazy! He wants to be a God. He thinks the ritual will do that. He w-wants. To kill everythin'. On this world. Then, he wants to ride this world, he said. Ride it back to his world, and destroy that one too."

It was an effort to keep his features calm, and not let the burning coal of anger within emerge to the fore. After a few moments, Shadow spoke once more. “What is your name, young lady?”

"I'm Molly." She tells Shadow, before she bites down on the bottom lip. "He calls me his daughter, but I'm not! I dunno who my parents were."

“Perhaps you remind him of his daughter, Molly. You are very sweet and pretty. And you know that Drakhar is not well in his mind.” Shadow offered softly as Napoleon brought the doll to the girl. She shakes her head quickly, her gaze focusing distantly on a far wall, lost for a moment in reliving the horrors of the moment of her death. Napoleon and the doll brings her back to the here and now. She braves a friendly smile and tentatively reaches out a hand to try to pat the top of the rat's head. Her hand passes through Napoleon's head when she tries to pet him. This makes her sad for a moment, but she holds out her hand for the doll. Oddly, she seems to be able to touch that. He still acts as if she patted him, rewarding her with a big whiskery smile, going through the motions of a whisker touch to her ghostly hand as he released the doll into her care.

Pursing his lips, Shadow took the time to whisper back to Claire. <vs> “I'm not sure what more we can do here.”

"Molly, my name's Claire. We're going to do what we can okay?" She nodded to Shadow and spoke over him to Molly. "But for us to help, I need to know if you know anything else you think might help. Can you think of anything?" Her tone gentle.

Molly giggles, quietly, and clutches the doll to her chest. Then, she looks up meekly towards Claire, her expression less sure than before. "You need the three flutes to get into the garden. One's inna basement, somewhere. He told me about that one. I've seen the other one in the room down the hall from here. The last one's in the library downstairs. It's guarded, though. An' the garden's guarded, too. Th-the dragon out there scares me." After another ghostly swallow, she adds. "You have t'kill him. For what he's done. He'll never stop. Ever. Ever. Please. Promise me?"

Claire’s gaze ticked between each of her team mates before it went back to Molly and she gave the girl a reassuring smile. "I will do everything in my power." She said softly. "I promise." Rachael, Shadow, and Napoleon each added their reassurances to the mix as well.

Molly breathes a big sigh of relief. She hugs the doll a bit tighter. "There's not much time. The two moons will turn red tonight 'cause of some stuff about the stars. Soon. That's when it'll happen. Maybe ... maybe once he's dead, I can sleep again.” She stares down at her dangling feet at the edge of the bed. "I wish I could help more. I'm just'a girl, though. A dead girl."

"You have helped much, petit. You are tres brave." Rachael took care to reinforce what they all felt.

Claire could sympathize with the girl on the lack of sleep and she gave another nod. "You've been a tremendous help. Rest well when the time comes." Then a glance toward Shadow. "I think it's time we revisit the library."

"Thanks. You're all real heroes, huh?", Molly says, looking up with a shy smile of her own. "We used to get books 'bout you read t'us in the orphanage. I always dreamed maybe I'd be one someday, too." The ghostly girl idly begins to smooth the remaining hair on the doll on her lap. "Goodbye, then. For now", she says softly, before she begins to fade away before them into nothingness.

Claire’s gaze narrowed on the door and she nodded. She had a promise to keep. "Time to go." She said softly and lead the way out, intent on the library and whatever lay ahead. Sure steps carried her out of the little girl's room and for the staircase that would take them downstairs near the library. With the upper level sufficiently swept in her eyes, she was content to tackle the library, coming to a stop in front of the tome guarding the doors.
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Zack Alcar
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Post by Zack Alcar »

Part Four

I. The Library

They passed through the dark halls of the stuffy top floor, and down the stairs back to the first floor of the Keep. It's not long before they were standing before the double-doors that lead into the Grand Library. The yellow, foreign rune floats before the doors, warding it from entrance.

“Where's Xanth when you need him? Hopefully not hanging out with Vanion.” Shadow quipped, examining the library doors and the ward in front of them.

"You son'sa bitches! This's for Johnny!" They heard a youthful, vengeful cry somewhere from the west. A moment later, the quiet halls erupted in a spray of rapid gunfire from the same direction. The gunfire continued for several seconds, one shot catching Shadow in the shoulder, while another tagged Zack in the thigh. Then, the gunfire ceased for a moment.

Snapping his gaze towards the direction the gunfire was coming from, Zack muttered a curse to himself. With a growl as he got tagged in the thigh and dropped to a knee, he glanced aside to see the rest of the crew adjusting accordingly. He pulled his pistol and fired blindly down the hallway, joining a barrage of bullets from Claire’s rifle, fireballs, peanut butter cups, and a liquid nitrogen disc. A familiar voice cried out, hidden around the corner all the way down at the end of the western corridor.

"You murdered'em! He was'a good --" A semi-automatic rifle pointed around the corner, just as Shadow's fireball flew in that direction. It was the young mercenary they had tied up in the barracks. Gun shots fired, but were absorbed in the stinky fog created by Napoleon's minion's. Then, a young shriek sounded as Shadow's fireball exploded, just at the edge of the corridor's corner. Zack muttered as he holstered his pistol and set about trying to pry the slug from his thigh. Not a pretty sight in the least. Not so quick to toss another spell so soon after the last, Shadow produced a first-aid patch from their field kits to apply to his shoulder, backing away to Zack's position. All was quiet for almost a minute. Then they heard the young mercenary's voice again, this time a little quieter and not directed at them. It seemed shocked, almost in disbelief.

"J-Johnny? But -- how? Baby. Johnny. We gotta get ya to the hospital, or ... Johnny? God. I thought I lost ya." Sobs mixed into the boy's voice towards the end of his speech. Claire glanced toward Shadow and then Zack, gaze lingering on the latter before she stuffed the flute back in her pocket and aimed for the point of the shriek.

"Get the feeling that something's down that way." Zack murmured, rising and patting Shadow on the shoulder, before looking back towards the cut off voice of the youth. "And not the kid." Despite that, they quickly hurried into the library. It was obvious that this place was very well cared for. Not a book seemed out of place, and tables set aside for reading were clean of clutter. A large hearth burned on the east side of the room, while the western wall was taken up by a wall-length mirror. The mirror seemed to be nothing more than a mirror at a glance. They saw themselves, and the Grand Library behind them, in its sheen.

“This feels like a portal.” Shadow murmured after closer examination.

"Oui, the surface, it ripples slightly." Rachael’s shielded gaze studied the reflections.

"Don't trust it." Zack muttered as he looked around the library again.

"Throw something at it." Claire suggested, finally pulling her gaze toward the mirror portal thingamajig.

“Look here.” Shadow pointed with the ArCane to a place in the mirror's view that seemed to reflect west, somewhat behind him, where rested a silver flute. His gaze turned to where in the real room the thing should be. “It is not here, but the mirror shows it. My guess is we need that flute. Claire?”

Claire stared at the mirror-portal and slowly nodded. "Something like that..." She murmured. She pursed her lips again and nodded once more as Rachael moved to head through in search of the flute. Claire didn't like it, but it seemed to be their best bet. "Quickly."

“We have your back, if anything happens we'll be through after you.” Spoke Shadow.

"Oui. Speed, it is how I am." In a blur of movement, she stepped through the mirror-portal. Rachael stepped through the mirror as though it were not there at all, its surface rippling as she does. Once she is through, though, they couldn’t see her in its reflection at all.

“If she's not back in a minute, I'm going in after her.” Shadow stated plainly.

Claire looked from the mirror over her shoulder toward the rest of the library, glancing back and forth. "Roger." A minute passes, nothing changes. Impatient, Shadow followed soon after, and then Claire, Nappy, and Zack. The party passed through the portal. When they stepped through, they found themselves in various rooms, all similar, the floors, ceilings and walls all made of mirrors. In their reflections, the rest of the party could be seen. Rachael and Zack seemed to be in the same room, while Shadow, Claire and Napoleon were alone in their own rooms. The flute was nowhere to be seen. A few moments later, a ghost manifested in each room; each of them adorned in heavy armor bearing the insignia of the Catholic Knights Templar of Rhy'Din. In Shadow's room loomed a giant of a Knight, wielding an ethereal morningstar; he would have been taller yet if it weren't for the fact that he had no head. In Claire's room, a woman of similar size and build appeared, wielding a duelist's rapier and sporting a huge hole through her torso.

How much time passed in those glass rooms, they weren’t sure, but the four ghosts were faced head on until dispatched. Despite their transparent bodies, their weaponry was very much so real and dealt blows that were enough to stagger even the sturdiest of warriors. Amidst the clashing of blades, any hope at communicating with one another was nonexistent, grunts and growls muted by mirrored wall and the din of battle alike.

"Fool! You will die here!", the unholy Knight bellowed at Zack in a twisted growl. However, when Zack's parry stopped the floating shield's swing, it sent the object flying away from the Knight. The shield landed upon the ground some several feet away, and lay still, as the battle continued.

"And why do you wish to kill us? We have done nothing to you!" Zack growled back at the knight as he knocked the shield from the knight’s grasp, tired of being hit by it.

The Dark Paladin's voice echoed in the room, "You are nothing to me. I am a servant of Drakhar, who will cleanse this world in his fire and bathe it in his light."

Zack glanced aside to Rachael for a moment as she got hit again, then went in low and once again watched as the sword passed on through. "And this is what you really want? To cause more people to be like you?"

Rachael’s stance was maintained and grip tightened on the hilt of her dagger. "Never give up. Never surrender."

The floating sword pulled back to beat away Zack's thrust, then rotated and drove forward towards Rachael. She managed to knock it away with a well-timed parry, and when she did, the sword's black flame went out and it fell to the floor. With a grim look, the dead Paladin set his jaw and brought up his fists, before he hissed at Zack. "I want to see how it all ends. How everyone ends."

The blades were spun into a desperate, strong defense, which turned back the attack as Rachael spoke. "You cannot always get what you want."

Zack muttered as his attack was knocked aside, before nodding in agreement. "Agreed. When you want everything, you lose everything."

Weaponless, the Paladin's arms flickered away once more. Still, with only his body and legs, he fought - and wildly. He stomped downward to knock away Rachael's low attack, then drove his right, ethereal boot forward with a powerful kick that crashed through Zack's guard. It felt real enough. The weapon-less Paladin glanced over to see Shadow defeat the headless Knight. "My Brother...", he grumbled darkly. When Rachael came at him, he spun aside and countered with a shoulder bash. Then, he fell back a couple of paces, wary of being flanked by Zack.

"What about your brother?" Zack’s brow rose a touch, as he lowered his own sword just a bit.

Cornered, the ghostly Paladin hissed back at Zack. "You will join him in Hell, heretic." Then, he charged both Rachael and Zack with a maddened look in his ebon eyes. They both went low, though, and their simultaneous strike (this time) did not seem to pass through the ghostly Knight. Instead, they managed to bereave him of both legs, leaving only his flopping torso which flew straight towards Zack, crashing into him. The ghost's body fell back and dropped to the ground, limb-less now. He screamed in pain, and stared up at the both of them with a baleful glower. A few moments later, he vanished entirely, leaving Rachael and Zack looking pretty winded after the encounter.

The blades swung in a low arc from Rachael’s prone position to strike through what appeared to be corporeal limbs. Slow, ragged breaths were taken once the Paladin vanished.

Shifting to let Rach go in first, Zack followed by chopping the other leg off, only to have a flying ghost paladin crash into him, sending him staggering again. "You first." Hissed in return as he glanced to Rach as he took his own ragged breaths. "You alright?"

"Comparatively, oui. He will not bite our legs off." Her stance was slowly regained.

At much the same time, Claire finished off the last ghost in her room. As the final ghostly Knight vanished, the mirrored walls around them shattered and vanished, as strangely as their dangerous foes. They found themselves back in the library, this time without a mirrored wall. In the middle of the room, a small dais lingered, with a silver flute resting atop it.

Zack looked up and around for a moment when everything to normal, then looked to Nappy. "How is everyone?" Now that he caught his breath.

“Mac is hungry. Fighting ghost brutes are not very good snacks for him.” Nappy said quietly.

Replacing the kukri in its resting place on her hip, Claire took a moment to run her gaze over each of her teammates. Then to the flute. "And number three." She murmured, reaching for it since no one else had already. While one hand went for the last flute, her other made for the two others in her pocket, comparing the three side by side.

“Zack, we'll need to share out our healing powers, if that's alright. I'm near the end of mine until I rest a bit.” Shadow lamented tiredly.

"Sure." Zack spoke while moving over to help Shadow out to heal the others that needed it first, before worrying about his own.

The healing worked slowly, hindered by the dark magics of the Keep. Now, everything in the Library was quiet. Through the western door, they could just make out the three floating runes set before the glass doors leading out into the Garden.

Having fared a bit better than the others in her party, Claire took up a protective stance, her gaze on a steady sweep of the room in between glances down at the flutes while the others took a few moments to recover.

"When we are done here. I'm sleeping for a week." Zack muttered as he tended to his wounds.

"Oui. I would attempt the same, but mon fou fèlin will not permit such." Rachael nodded.

Zack chuckled softly as he stretched his arms over his head with a slight groan. "Probably wouldn't get much sleep myself."

"Hook me up to a central line of vodka and caffeine and I'll be set." Claire muttered.

"Oui. Sleep, perchance to dream." Rachael’s shielded gaze flicked to Claire. "Coffee and chocolate por moi."

“Ah, but what I'd give for a Broot right now.” Shadow added his two cents.

"That does sound good right about now." Zack flashed Shadow a slight grin.

"Or single malt, oui." Rachael forced back thoughts of a different sort of Scotch, though the brief flush to her scarred features betrayed them.

Claire straightened up fully and led the way cautiously toward the exit and hopefully to the garden doors should they not be impeded. The corridor was quiet as they walked the short distance to the glass doorway leading out into the lush gardens beyond. Three runes floated just off of the doors - one yellow, one violet, and one crimson.

Shadow produced the copper flute with yellow rune. “I've got this one, Claire, you have the other two?”

Coming to a stop in front of the doors, Claire holds out the third flute to Rachael, keeping the violet runed flute. "I only have one mouth. Unfortunately I'm not talented enough to play all three at once."

"I can but try." Rachael’s gloved hand reached out for the third flute, and respirator was lowered.

"On three then, someone count us off?" Claire drew the violet runed flute to her lips.

"One." Zack nodded, looking over his shoulder. "Two." As the three placed the flutes to their lips to prepare. "Three."
Last edited by Zack Alcar on Thu May 15, 2014 10:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
So sleep soundly in your beds tonight
For judgement falls upon you at first light
I'm the hand of God
I'm the dark messiah
I'm the vengeful one
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Zack Alcar
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Post by Zack Alcar »

II. The Garden

As Shadow, Claire and Rachael blew on their flutes, no music sounded. However, the floating wards before the garden doors flickered, and then faded away. Claire nodded and the flute was lowered immediately then shoved into a pocket. A hand was put up to the unwarded door, feeling for anything else that might prevent them from entering. Should the doors give, she took a slow breath and eased them open. Near silent steps were set to take her through as the rifle was pulled from her shoulder again.

The glass doors opened and the party proceeded into the garden beyond. The sun felt warm on their flesh as they step down. The garden was quite large, and its strange and colorful flora was different than any that they had ever seen. The stone walls of the keep rose in every direction around the garden's courtyard. Some two hundred feet north floated a large magical portal that sparked a blood-red energy about it.

"Welp. There's the portal." Claire murmured, gaze falling on the crimson port. Slowly proceeding into the garden, she glanced up at the false sun with a shake of her head before moving to examine the exotic flora more closely.

Eyebrow whiskers go up as Mac tells him "I smell it! I smell Dragon! ... Dead Dragon. It will have to do."

The sun set suddenly, falling beyond the western wall of the Keep. Suddenly, it was night, and the sky above seemed right for how late they believed it to be. One of Rhy'Din's moons was large in the sky, and a bright orange-red. A second moon seemed to be slowly moving toward the other, smaller and gray. By Zack’s estimation, there would be a dual lunar eclipse soon. Very soon. That got a muttered and rather harsh curse from him, and luckily in another language.

"Be on the look out. Stay together, we move for the portal." Blinking a few times as the sun quickly set, Claire’s lips pressed into a tight line.

As they talked amongst themselves, the wind blew about the garden, shaking its leaves. They could hear the flutter of the ancient creature's bony wings a few moments before they saw its shape pass in front of the smaller, gray moon. The massive dracolich opened its skeletal maw and screeched a high-pitched, otherworldly sound. It hung there in the sky, and fiery eyes set within its deep, empty eye sockets stared down at the party from above. The Dracolich hovered and fire seeped from its maw. Then, from above, it engages the party, staying well away from the ground.

A few unfortunate swears slip past Claire lips. "Zack. We need you here." She called back. Brows knitting in concentration.

Zack looked up for a moment to see the Dracolich. "Great." Muttered then nodded to Claire as he let the shift happen. This time not bothering with the small size either. Literally cutting loose to let himself match that dracolich. That done, he aimed to suddenly take flight. Firing off his own breath blast at the dracolich. Fire this time.

The Dracolich, wings fluttering, brought up a simple mystical shield that seemed to protect it against the flying bullets and tossed explosives. It shrieked once more, the sound both great and terrible. The great beast breathed a dark, choking fog from its mouth. The cloud of putridness managed to reach Zack, Napoleon and Shadow. Meanwhile, Claire unleashed a mighty show of Earth-based magic, and Rachael reached into the nether realm to cut through the foul breath of the undead dragon.

The beast swooped across the sky, and as it passed overhead, breathed lightning down at Rachael, who countered it with a mirroring spell. Meanwhile, the entire group unloaded a massive attack against the Dracolich, doing a whole lot of damage. The Dracolich did not see Zack's attack coming. It fell from the sky a bit, then spun in the air to regain its floating position.

Swooping once more, the undead creature unleashed a storm of fire upon the party below, dealing heavy damage in retribution for moments before. Mac unleashed some holy vengeance upon the Dracolich, while Zack unleashed power from above to further damage the great creature. Channeling that magical aura around himself, Zack roared out at the dracolich. "Eat this!" Growled out as meteors started to rain down upon the beastie from above. Meteors rained down upon the Dracolich, and it was sandwiched between Zack's skyward assault and Mac's holy energy launched from below. The beast screeched, though whether it was in pain or merely enraged wasn’t certain.

The undead guardian turned suddenly and swooped from the sky straight for Claire, whose fiery aura could only partially protect her from a brutal mid-air tailsweep. Meanwhile, Shadow unleashed the fury of the Keeper of Fire and Rachael tapped into nether energies to work alongside Dragon-Zack to further injure the beast. Napoleon's Mac-attack was less successful this time around.

The wall of flame was brought up but the impact of the tailsweep sent Claire’s fatigued frame skidding several meters across the garden. She groaned and pushed herself back up to her feet. Growling out again as he watched the dracolich swooping in on Claire, he swooped down after it. "Get back here!" Shifting mid swoop to follow in after the other attacks from Shadow, Rach and Nappy. No magic here. Straight up talons used to rip at the beastie. The force of Zack from above caused the Dracolich to almost crash into the earth, but it managed to spin away and seeked to rise back into the sky above.

The beast continued to maneuver in the sky, attempting to use its wings to bat away enemy projectiles and spells. The fluttering pushed Napoleon's gas back upon the PiRATe and managed to bat away Claire's bolt of energy, but Zack, Rachael and Shadow once again manage to get past the majestic dead thing's guard. Having no time to shift and keep in the air, Zack twisted and landed hard, once again firing off a blast of icy winds from the ground and guiding them upwards.

Turning sharply, Vanion's pet opened its maw and spilled forth a poisonous breath down to the party below. Shadow countered with a powerful spell of his own, while Napoleon's Mac-attack struck true and the Dracolich began to tumble from the sky and toward the earth below.

“Mac, you know what to do with these.” Napoleon tossed up 7 Twizzlers; they hover and floated around Mac, turning silver, turning sharp, and transforming into curved blades almost as long as Mac was, they waited for Mac's focus to get them where they need to go. “Pew pew pew.”

The Dracolich crashed onto the ground. Slowly, it rose to its feet, not taking back to the sky. "Mortalsssss...", it hissed. Then, it spoke a word of power and laid down a powerful anti-magic field over the Garden before it began to stomp towards the party, its talons raising. The beast charged, then turned and swung its tail in a low sweep at the party, crashing into Rachael's legs. Meanwhile, Napoleon and Mac keep the tail at bay, while Claire, Zack and Shadow all manage to hurt the foul beast with their own blows.

Napoleon laughed as Mac answers "Yes! Let us slay the Dragon and chew on its bones. First, let us have the elf cleanse the taint of those bones so that we do not die. Ha ha! Charge!"

The dragon flew a few meters off of the ground then fell suddenly, stomping its four giant, bony feet to cause the ground to quake around the party. Napoleon and Zack managed to stay on their feet to strike, though the rest of their allies were not so fortunate. The Dracolich wobbled from the continued strikes. Some of the smaller bones of its talons began falling off, and the crimson fire in its dead eye sockets began to flicker.

As the Dracolich continued to fall apart, it opened its deadly maw to unleash another blast of unholy inferno at the party, catching Zack and Napoleon with its breath. Meanwhile, Claire, Shadow and Rachael all managed to fend off the flames. The walls of the Keep began to quake and crumble around them, even as more of the Dragon's bones began to fall. Still, what was left of it pressed forward, towards the party. "I am Hekathate, the Mighty. No mortalssss ssshall sssstop me!", it rumbled through a broken jawbone.

The Drake charged Napoleon and his sword, Mac! Napoleon charged the undead dragon! Nobody else could seem to quite land a blow. Struck by Mac one last time, the necromantic energies holding the ancient dragon's bones together dissipated. Immediately, it crumbled in a heap before Napoleon. The ground began to shake and the walls began to collapse dangerously all around them.

Shadow gave another whack of the sword, but the collapsing walls were an issue. “Into the portal!” He cried, dashing at it full tilt.

Napoleon shook his head, a little dazed from the final attack, but he did his best to get his bearings and follow Shadow's directive.

Unable to get a hit in edgewise, Claire looked rather alarmed by the crumbling walls. Spying Napoleon, she darted his way, offering to scoop him up and run with him if he'll let her toward the portal.

Before the portal, Molly appeared. She looked around the collapsing garden with wide, full eyes. Then she spotted Shadow and the others rushing towards her. "Wait!", the ghostly girl cried. "Take me with you. I'm no hero, b-but ... maybe I can help!"

Rachael’s gloved hand reached out for the ghostly girl to snag her if possible while she moved for the portal.

“We'll only be placing her in danger!” Warned the elf. After all, what had a ghost to worry, here, about collapsing stone?

Molly reached to grab a hold of Rachael's hand, and despite being a ghost, was pulled along with the woman toward the portal. "P-please. I can do this", Molly cried as she was pulled towards the portal.

"Molly, if you're coming, hurry!" Claire cried out, trying to get the rest of the party to and through the portal, wanting them all through before following.

"Oui, petit." The ghostly girl was gathered into Rachael’s side as she stepped through the portal.

Claire had the same idea as Zack did. "Claire get through the portal!" Holding onto Nappy with one arm, Claire’s other hand reached for Zack's intent on yanking him through the portal with her.

As the Keep began to collapse and the earth split behind them, they just made it to the portal. They passed through the portal, and arrived ... somewhere that they could never have expected. And they arrived there alone, without any of their friends and allies.
So sleep soundly in your beds tonight
For judgement falls upon you at first light
I'm the hand of God
I'm the dark messiah
I'm the vengeful one
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Post by Rachael Blackthorne »

Part Five

I. Rachael's Story?

Rachael stepped through the portal, dragging the ghost girl behind, and everything around them changed. Her memory faded, and a profound confusion settled in upon her mind. For a few moments, all that she could see was a piercing, bright white light. It felt as though needles jammed themselves into her skull. Needless to say, it was all rather unpleasant.

The Watchwoman’s shielded eyes shuttered closed tightly against the piercing light, and her teeth gritted against the pain that it caused. Gloved hand still kept hold of the ghost girl, with the intent to protect her if need be.

Then Rachael was lying on her back, alone. She felt as though she were trying to protect someone, but the memory of where she came from seemed just beyond her grasp. Everything was confusing right now. She heard the distant sound of soft, sweet voices. The pain in her mind continued, but dulled, as the light dimmed and her eyes came into focus. She was in a beautiful courtyard, filled with magnificent ivory statues of elvish men and women. Above her, a warm sun pressed gently down upon her, the source of the previously piercing light.

The Watchwoman’s shielded gaze swept over her surroundings as she regained her stance, in an attempt to locate the source of the voices. The statues were noted, and dismissed for the moment as the source.

Rachael regained her footing, and took better note of her surroundings. The courtyard was expansive, with extravagant gardens surrounding it on all sides. Her keen hearing informed her that there were people in those gardens, having idle, mid-afternoon conversation. To her south was a spiral tower that reached up toward the clouds. Something about it felt familiar. On the north side of the courtyard was a great fountain of sparkling blue water, headed by a bold-looking statue of a dashing male elf holding a rapier in his right hand - and a lute in his left.

The Watchwoman’s raven brow lifted. Measured steps took her toward the fountain to study the statue. Music seemed to play a great part in this battle, a fleeting memory told her.

A pair of young, elvish lovers ran from the western gardens, laughing happily between themselves at some unknown joke. Rachael moved toward the fountain to observe the elvish statue. She was struck by the resounding notion that she knew this man. That he was important to her. Then, she spotted something from the corner of her vision that startled her. There was a girl beneath the water of the fountain, staring upward, unmoving.

A low oath escaped her lips and the Watchwoman moved in a blur to the fountain. Water splashed around her as she reached in to try to pull the girl out from under the water. She had to rescue her. She splashed violently against the water of the fountain, causing chaotic ripples to arc out from the epicenter of her vain rescue attempt.

There was no girl there.
Last edited by Rachael Blackthorne on Sun May 18, 2014 9:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Rachael Blackthorne »

No, wait.

The water began to calm, and she stared down at her own reflection in it. Her ears curved up into graceful points at their height. Crimson hair of light curls fell easily against her shoulders, turned slightly golden as it caught the soft rays of the mid-day sun. Her face was young, not yet adolescent. She was a young, elvish girl. This realization struck her like a blow, and her mind swam, attempting to sort out the truth of it all.

Gloved hands reached up to touch her ears to confirm or deny the message that her sight told her. Temples pounded with the effort to try to focus on what she knew was reality.

The fountain spoke to her the truth. Her ears, the girlish dress she wore. As she stood there, she earned the soft, disapproving gaze of the two elvish lovers, before the boy began to pull the girl back into the western gardens, speaking loud enough for the elvish girl to hear some of what he says, "...cannot expect her daughter to act normal... time in the library, if you ask...."

"The library." A faint memory stirred. She had to get to the library. There was something important there.

Memories of her mother came to her, unbidden. A high-priestess, loved by her followers, and feared for her stern demeanor. The girl wasn’t supposed to be out here in the courtyard, by herself. But her mother loved her. Certainly, she wouldn't -- another memory struck her mid-thought. The library. The holy library. The seventh floor of the great tower. That's where her mother would be right now.

"Mère." She turned from the fountain and measured strides began to take her in the direction of the tower. Another, fainter memory stirred deep in her mind. My mother was a test tube, and my father was a knife. But the compulsion to travel to the tower, and mother, grew stronger. And she gave into it.

The dichotomous aching in the elven girl’s skull returned, as she struggled to self-identify. But she climbed the ivory steps, and passed through the great double doors that led into the Tower. Elves, all much taller than her, moved busily about within, carrying on with their daily duties. Her stridence did little to deter them, and she found herself bumping awkwardly against them on her way to the endless stairs.

Murmured apologies escaped her lips while she ascended the stairs. She had to get to her mother.

Within the tower, on its first floor, was The Temple. It was the holiest place of her clan, said to be the very place where the Lady Mystara herself shed her immortal skin to kiss the gift of life into the first of the girl’s people. Here, it was always day, no matter the time, for as her mother had said, Lady Mystara's light is eternal, the last piece of her bequeathed immortality. To the far east side of the Temple, well away from the song and dance of the mid-day ceremony of praise, she saw the eternal stairs.

"Well, look at who it is!" a wide-shouldered elvish man with jet hair, adorned in steel armor, loomed above the girl as she approached the stairway. He reached aggressively down towards her with both hands.

Those stairs lead to Mother, her memories told her. But she backed away from the elven man. Something was wrong, very wrong.

He hesitated when she pulled back, and looked down sternly at you. "Are you alright, girl? Your mother's been worried sick about you."

She smelled smoke.

"Mother!" She had to get to her. The smoke meant fire, burning. She tried to get past the man.

"What in the -- are you touched, Mi--", he started to call after her as the girl began to sprint up the immense staircase that ran up the eastern side of the tower. The end of his sentence was drowned out by the sound of the earth shaking. Somewhere high above her, she heard a piercing scream, and a piece of the Tower's wall above, the chunk larger than the girl, came flying down to smash into the floor of the Temple. A moment later, the girl’s people were possessed by chaos and confusion.

An oath left her lips while she moved in a blur up the steps. Her mother was hurt, perhaps dying. The pain in her temples throbbed in time with her heartbeat as she tried to reconcile what was going on with what she knew was right.

Her small legs took her quickly up the impossibly long flight of stairs. She passed by the second floor, and then the third. Already, streams of her people passed by her. One nearly smacked into the girl so hard that, for a moment, she dangled backwards, slipping towards a deadly fall back downward. The singular scream above had grown into a chorus of them now. Some other part of the girl knew the sound of this chaos. This was the sound of war, come to pass.

Slipping, slipping. She managed somehow to grasp onto the wall to keep herself from falling into the depths. War. She had to fight. She had to save her mother. The struggle to hold onto what she knew in her mind throbbed painfully.

She held on tightly. The stream of fleeing elves was less now, on the stairs. The walls around her shook again, and the smell of smoke turned into a black cloud above her. Finally, her feet felt secure once more.

"Mother." She had to reach her. Hand covered her nose and mouth to try to keep the smoke out as she moved upward, ever upward.

The elven girl began her ascent once more, though each step seemed like a mountain to her now as she struggled to breathe. Finally, she reached the seventh floor. She heard shouting beyond the double-doors that lead into the library, and bright flashes of rainbow-colored light flashed from the gap at the bottom of those doors.

She had to get the doors open. Fists pounded on them.
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Post by Rachael Blackthorne »

Already broken hinges shattered at the surprising strength of the elven girl’s blows. One of the two doors collapsed inward to expose the scene beyond. It was a bloodbath. Mangled bodies of her people were sprawled about the massive hall of the Holy Library. Most were dead, though some still clawed against the ground in a futile attempt to escape.

Heavily-armed men in strange armor leveled long, metal rods towards those still attempting to flee. With a twitch of their finger, those rods released smoke and fire, slaughtering the survivors. None of them immediately seemed to notice the girl.

She looked around for a weapon of some kind to fight, fight against those who slaughtered her people. The elven girl spotted the body of a guard, leaning against the still-standing half of the door to the library. His body slumped, and a hole the size of the girl’s tiny fist seemed to have punched its way through his forehead. A longsword was still in his cold grip.

She wrested the longsword from his cold, dead hand, and held it easily, muscle memory seeming to come to the fore on how to wield it. Approach was made from the rear of the group of the attackers, and the blade swung out with the intent to slay one of them from the back by cutting them in half. The swing was awkward, the blade’s length easily greater than her height. One of the attackers was surprised from behind, though the angle of the attack did not succeed in cutting them in two. Still, the force of the blow cleaved hard into his side. The girl felt strangely peaceful at the sound of his dying scream.

Then the girl saw her. Her mother. The majority of the attackers surrounded her in the center of the room. Her mother wielded her staff against them, protecting herself from those metal rods of fire and smoke and striking back with her powerful magics. The girl had never seen her like this before. Her mother was how she imagined herself to be one day. Strong. Beautiful.

Peaceful. She spun to strike again with the blade, awkwardly, but she wanted more peace by slaying another of the attackers.

Her mother continued to fight, but several of the human attackers seemed to have some protection against her spells. Still, she held them at bay across the room.

She had to help her mother. The blade continued to swing, awkwardly given its length, to try to slay those who attacked her mother, while she ran toward her. Another unsuspecting man was cut down before her mother spotted her. Her mother’s mouth dropped, agape, and she stood there, in her flowing silk gown, staring at the girl fearfully.

Something exploded above them, and smoke began to pour into the library. The girl’s ears were filled with ringing sounds. Her mother held up her barriers and pointed at the girl desperately, saying something that went unheard due to the sounds of war around them. One of the men that attacked her mother turned and spied the girl with her motion.

Spotted. She had to act fast. The unwieldly weapon was swung toward the man who saw her, to stop him from attacking her or her mother. He took a step back, another explosion sounded, and the girl felt rigid. She tried to move but she felt like a statue. Frozen.

A memory came, unbidden, to the girl of another life. Betrayal by her own strike team. Being shot. Surviving. Surviving. You are a survivor. There was an elevator, and that was when it all went wrong.

I have to survive, to get out of this. She tried to move. She had to move. To escape.

Her mind danced between those thoughts, as a guard grabbed the girl by the back of her dress and kicked the longsword out of her hands. Lifted off the ground, he pressed his metal weapon to the side of the girl’s head, and shouted something to her mother.

Her mother looked at the girl, and something was seen in her mother’s proud eyes that she had never seen before. In that moment, she learned what true despair looked like.

The girl wriggled in his grasp, but he was stronger than her, and she bled from her shoulder. A memory, as if from another life, surfaced. She tried to slam her elbows back in a fluid motion. One elbow crashed into the man’s padded vest. He grunted and his finger began to twitch.

"No!” her mother cried, and she began to lower her staff. The other guards circled around, some of their guns on her, and others on the girl.

"This little bitch's like a one-eyed dog", the soldier holding onto the girl bellowed, causing the other humans to laugh boldly at the girl as she thrashed around in his arms. Desperation had her try for a headbutt to try to get free. She had to get free. Her head struck but the superhuman strength that she had felt just moments ago was gone. She was just a girl.

"I love you, Mischaelna. Make your Mother a promise….” she started to say to the girl with a broken smile, her tone that of the ever-proud leader of her people.

"I promise."

The air exploded with gunfire. This is not right. This is not mine. Despite the war within the girl’s mind, she watched as the men gunned down her mother, the High Priestess, in front of her. Their visages were frozen in cruel laughter. This cannot be mine. She screamed out in despair.

She was thrown to the ground and felt her consciousness begin to fade. Another part of her mind, the one that knows that none of this is right, told the girl that she was in shock. One of the men, a burly brute with hair on his chin, sat on top of her mother's dress. He began to tear at the shoulders of that dress, howling like a wolf.
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Post by Rachael Blackthorne »

That was when she saw, through blurry eyes, a figure in the smoke. He fell upon the humans like a vengeful star, and as the fire began to burn through the ceiling above, his rapier flashed the color of blood.

Drakhar. Father.

Vanion. Butcherer.

She had to help father slay those who killed her mother. She rolled to reach for the blade which had helped her before. Some of her strength returned, though the girl did not know how. When she grabbed the hilt, she saw the fat, bearded man sitting atop her mother's corpse ignore the sounds of combat around him, taken by another kind of lust.

Drakhar danced in the black pillars, striking between shots from the men's rifles with a dancer's precision. Every blow of the rapier was a deadly one.

She had to kill the fat man. She regained her stance and moved to strike, to drive the sword through the fat man to kill him. He gurgled as the tip of the blade sliced through the back of his neck like a butter-knife against a stick of frozen butter. It was messy. Blood sprayed from his jugular and mouth, and down onto the still form of her mother. The girl heard several more shots behind her, then nothing.

As the fat man died, he lost his grip on her mother's dress, and slumped over onto her. She kicked at the fat man to try to get him off of her mother. Over and over. On the third kick, the large human rolled over onto his back, and off of her mother.

"Mischie….” her father called to the girl, his usually smooth voice shaky and raspy.

She turned to face her father, the blade dripping with blood as it was torn free of the man's body.

He stood in the middle of a pile of what had been a dozen soldiers, previously. His rapier was sheathed now. He held a burnt husk of a boy against the deep blue of his trouper's tunic. Tears streamed easily from his face. The girl knew in her heart that the boy in his arms was her brother. "Put down the sword, girl. Can you walk?"

She nodded. Tears fell as well as the sword clattered to the ground under her feet. She moved to her father's side, not feeling her own wounds.

Despite his broken-hearted expression, his voice was soft and steady once more. Something about it put half of her mind at ease, and caused the other half of her brain no small amount of discomfort. "Stay close to me. Once we're into the forest, we run. Until then, we....” He paused for a moment to look back at the girl’s mother's body. The smoke was thick now on this floor. The girl could barely see her father before her. Finally, he finished his sentence, "...stay to the shadows. We must. Bury your brother."

Part of her trusted her father without question. Part recoiled from the idea of trusting him like a snake from a mongoose. Nevertheless, she moved with her father. The throbbing pain in her temples intensified.
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Post by Rachael Blackthorne »

The smoke grew even thicker, and she could see nothing now. She could hear nothing. Her brain swam with an overload of information. She remembered everything that just happened, but realized that she was Rachael Douglas. She remembered her mission.

Oaths in a variety of languages left her lips. The mission. She had to find the others and complete the mission. The memories of what happened before her sense of self returned stuck in her mind like insects in amber. Trapped permanently, the curse and blessing of an eidetic memory.

She was alone.
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Post by Vanion Shadowcast »

((Assault on Overlord's Isle takes place after The Trigger Finger))

Part Six

I. A Prelude to the End of the World


Time. It was a unique force in this world, and all worlds, with the subtlety of the most clever court politician, and the unrelenting might of the most ancient of dragons. The most brilliant arcanists and learned scientists stood on the shoulders of ancestors that, hundreds of thousands of years ago, were mindless beasts who ate their weak and could not even form words from grunts. The mysteries of this Universe lay buried in dirt and eons, as the Cycle continued: the cycle of sentient species rising from primordial sludge to create empires that were destined to be buried and forgotten before the cycle began anew with the next hopeless race. Time observed all of these cycles, and much more, unimpressed with the ambitions of people.

These things were, briefly, at the forefront of Vanion Shadowcast's mind as he looked down on the world of Rhy'Din from his place in the stars.

Time was the master of nearly everything in this Universe, but long had he waged wars against his many masters and survived. That night he planned to conquer Time itself. He sat on a roughly hewn tree stump in his lonely, blighted garden, and he was surrounded by the heavens. He smiled slightly at his own power, having created a private paradise for himself above the atmosphere of Rhy'Din, from which he had uttered the forbidden words of ascension. All of his work over the past two fleeting years, his manipulations and his rituals, had come to fruition.

In mere minutes, he would become a God, and never again would his ambition be limited by his power. His mortality. As easy as it was to lose perspective over the course of such a long life, spanning one thousand years and more, his mind had never felt more clear. Perhaps if Time were aware of itself and of its children, Time might have seen him as nothing more than a petulant child, acting out violently in a vain effort to prove that his existence meant something.

That thought made the golden elf smile even more. Letting his left leg fold over his lap, he set a glass of red wine down between his thighs and slipped his hand into a simple pouch that lay on his sword-belt. He withdrew an ornate flute, taken from the dead, curled hands of one gypsy woman or another who had likely suffered greatly at his hands. He pressed the flute to his lips and began to play a slow, somber, beautiful song that his daughter had once been quite fond of. As his fingers danced over the holes of the instrument, his pale blue eyes wandered beyond the boundaries of his small, floating garden in space. They swept carelessly across the surface of Rhy'Din, and to the moon. Already, old prophecies and long forgotten magics were taking shape there, and a crimson halo wrapped the sight of the moon up inside of itself.

It was beginning. The only thing left to do was wait for those who were coming to observe his rise to greatness. Those who would stop him, if they could.

He had never liked waiting very much. And so, he passed the time with song and wine, while his cursed longsword lay in wait, sheathed and hungry for the blood of the would-be heroes.
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