Tuesday, November 30. 2010
Continued from Training IV
The chain resisted his magic but eventually snapped.
The last of the prisoners slumped free from his restraints. Hel propped him against the wall. He squinted at Hel dully but showed no signs of life. Hel had checked his heart beat three times. He slung the man's arm around his shoulder and led him towards where the other two survivors sat.
One watched them, a smile on his lips “Hey Jack, you're alright now, eh?”
Hel set Jack down, putting a thin blanket around him. The talkative survivor leaned across and patted Jack on the shoulder. He was the prisoner who'd cheered them on. An old man named Ambrose he'd identified some of the other prisoners, including Jack.
“He'll be alright now sir, won't he?”
“It's Hel. He'll be fine once we get him fresh air,”
The third survivor stared sullenly at the floor. She'd not spoken a word since Hel had pulled her off the necromancer. Despite the situation Hel couldn't help but notice her features. Beneath the layers of grime and malnutrition lay a very pretty girl.
“Hel?” Ambrose had a troubled look as he considered the name.
Hel grinned wryly. “Yep, only to necromancers though,”
Ambrose chuckled. “Were you a demon I couldn't care. Anything's better than those monsters,”
“The ghouls? They're down,”
Ambrose shook his head and pointed. There on the other side of the pit Darken stood. His back was to them and he was speaking to a black robed heap. Hel could not make out the words but the tone was unsettling.
“They're not human, Hel sir,”
“What do you mean?”
“The things they were doing to us, to me,”
Ambrose took a deep breath. “They had a... a tube with...”
The woman whimpered. Hel immediately leaned down, patting her shoulder comfortingly.
Ambrose shook his head again, wearier than he'd been a moment ago. “I don't want to think about it Sir Hel,”
Hel was still looking at the woman. “It's ok,”
“They made us watch! They'd wake us up each time! It was-” The panic rose in Ambrose's voice
“It's ok. You're safe,”
Hel noticed Jack was sobbing quietly. He left the girl and awkwardly patted the man on the shoulder.
“Everything's going to be fine,”
“It's alright Jack. The Guild's come see? Just like you said they would,” Ambrose said, his voice quavering. Hel hovered between all three, unsure of how to comfort them. The sorrowful moment was broken by a howl.
Darken held the necromancer up by one hand. He was thrashing on the floor like a fish freshly caught. Something sizzled. As Hel watched with some disgust a thought occurred to him.
“Ambrose, you never said what her name was,” He nodded to the woman.
The old man, equally fascinated by Darken's performance, replied. “Don't rightly know. She was already here when they brought me in. Jack came after kept bragging his brother was a hunter,”
“They deserve far worse, sir,”
Hel ignored the comment, leaving the huddle and heading over to Darken. Away from them he gave himself a thump in the side. The pain distracted him from the buzzing in the back of his head. Close to Darken the death stench of the tomb was overridden by the scent of burnt flesh.
Darken offered him a smile, wiping his hands clean. Hel's knuckles whitened. The smile reminded him of a thousand arrogant nobles.
“Karles has been most helpful,”
Hel looked down. “The necromancer?”
Karles stared blearily at the ceiling, clutching at the arm Darken had held up. There was that buzzing again in Hel's ear.
“So... how many?”
“At least four. Karles is the junior, so naturally they used him as bait. The others will be waiting,”
“Did he say their names?”
“I didn't ask too much, torture is unreliable”
“Then why use it?”
Darken swooped down upon Karles. The apprentice groaned as his arm was jerked upward.
Hel surveyed the display. Where there had been a hand was now a blackened stump.
“Perhaps, Karles, you will remember the price of Evil,” Darken announced cheerfully.
“He'd better be able to walk,”
“He's irrelevant now,” Darken lowered his voice “We'll have to move fast. They'll trap and starve us otherwise,”
Hel stared levelly. “We'll go at the pace they can manage,”
Darken frowned. “Are we talking about the same people?”
Hel jerked a thumb at the prisoners.
“Oh no. Hel,”
“Darken,” Hel said flatly.
“Hel, we're here to purge the tomb,”
“Well we can purge it by helping these people. They've suffered too much to be abandoned,”
“Hel, you don't know how necromancers work. We cannot leave until every last one of them is dead,”
“I don't see why. We got in easy enough. We took down this lot no problem,”
“One lazy apprentice who was stupid enough to be beaten by a woman,”
“Nice of you to admit it,”
Darken looked pained. “We don't have time to argue,”
Darken sighed. In one swift movement he seized Karles by the cuff and dragged him towards the trio, calling back. “We will bring all of them with us,”
Darken loomed over the three huddled prisoners “Well! I trust everyone is in good health?”
Only Ambrose looked up. “Well as can be sir,”
“Please, no need for such deference. Call me Luceh. That's Bran,”
The returning Hel resisted the urge to slap his forehead. Ambrose merely nodded.
“You have no doubt suffered much at the hands of these fiends and for that you have my sympathies,”
“But?” supplied Ambrose.
Darken was unruffled. “But, we must move quickly if...” he broke off, cocking his head to one side.
Hel heard the moaning. He turned toward the sound and caught a glimpse of a woman with long flowing hair and a diaphanous gown. His breath stopped. It couldn't have been. He shook his head and snarled at the necromancer, slumped beside Darken.
“What are you playing at?”
He grabbed Karles with both hands, hauling the man upright. The fallen ghouls were groaning.
“You trying to piss me off?”
Karles gave him a wide-eyed look. Hel felt a hand on his shoulder.
“You see to the others,” Darken said quietly.
Hel huffed. He gave Karles one last shake. “Go ahead. Do that again. See what happens,”
He gave the necromancer a rough shove and spun on his heel.
“Ambrose. Let's get these two moving,”
Karles landed on the floor with a yelp. He gave Darken a helpless look. Darken merely smiled.
Six warm bodies proceeded through the necromancers' library. The skulls were silent this time, their empty eyesockets staring into space. Several times Darken stopped to cough his guts out. Each time he claimed to be fine even as his fire light faltered. Hel didn't feel so great either. The buzzing was incessant, scraping across his cranium, making it impossible to focus symbols. Only Ambrose's chatter provided any relief.
“-so I let go of the cow. It made a right splash!”
The group was silent but for Karles who gave a small snigger. Hel's growl silenced him.
“Why don't you share a story necromancer? You're so fucking cheerful,”
Karles licked his lips nervously. “I only know... ghost stories,”
Ambrose spat. Hel started forward but a flicker caught his eye. There was someone up ahead. A woman in a white gown. He stared at her open mouthed. Slowly she raised a hand and beckoned to him. It was a trick. She was dead. Some stinking necromancer trick. He whirled on Karles and struck.
Karles flailed backwards from the blow, he caught at the shelves and two small skulls scattered to the floor, falling to pieces. Darken caught Hel's arm before he could thump the necromancer again.
“Hel, no. He's not doing that,”
Hel glared at Darken. “Why are you protecting him?”
He jerked a thumb at the three behind them. Jack, Ambrose and the woman, they were all watching Karles intently.
“Heck, you like torture. Why don't we just give them some blades?”
Darken was solemn. “He will face justice,”
“Fuck justice,” Hel lowered his fist, slipping the iron back into a pocket. “You saw her too right?”
Darken turned and roughly pulled the necromancer back up. “I saw... her, yes,”
“How do they know?”
Darken was staring off into the shadows. “We have to move,” he said simply.
Hel followed his gaze. Their light cast long deep shadows. Except the shadows should have been behind them. As he squinted he saw them move away, angular shapes of gloom that receded into the darkness.
There was a chorus of howls from far back the way they'd came. Everyone shivered.
They'd reached the end of the corridor and were almost to the great hall when the ghouls caught up. The creatures showed no sign of the previous engagement, lean and hungry as they charged up the passage. Hel and Darken took up the rearguard. There was no prompting between them. Hel splashed the corridor with a gluelike substance. The ghouls barrelled into it and were trapped amidst sticky strands. Darken made no grand speech, simply bathing them in flame. The entire mess caught fire and the undead fell to screaming. Hel helped the woman. Ambrose was beside Jack speaking into his ear. Darken forced the necromancer on. Together they stepped out into the corridor, leaving the shrieking ghouls behind.
Ambrose saw them first. He let go of Jack and shrank back. Jack was abandoned, staring dumbly at the floor. The woman beat on Hel's reassuring arm, breaking free and pressing to the wall in mute terror. Only Darken advanced, cuffing their prisoner and drawing a knife. Hel hesitated before joining him. He had a sinking feeling he knew where this was going.
Three figures clothed in black watched him silently. They were surrounded by the remains of people and animals. One zombie missed a head. One was a rotted wolf with legs too big for it. The undead were as still as their masters, awaiting a command. Darken slung an arm about Karles neck and held the knife to the air.
“Don't,” Hel hissed.
Darken ignored him, engaged in a staring contest with the necromancers. Karles managed to turn his head slightly and gave Hel a sideways smirk.
“Darken, remember justice?” Hel hissed.
“I would deal with you,” Darken announced loudly.
The three said nothing.
“Listen to my terms,”
There were still blank looks. Karles filled with bravado. “Release me and you can go free,”
Darken closed his eyes for one second. A smile spread across his lips. A smile that reminded Hel of a thousand arrogant nobles.
The knife slipped under Karles chin. In one fluid movement it sliced open the young man's throat. His face contorted from smug satisfaction to horror. Darken let him go and the necromancer staggered forward, clutching at his opened throat.
“You will surrender. And then be granted Dia's Mercy. This tomb will be collapsed and its horrors burned away,”
There was a long moment. Hel, the prisoners, the necromancers, all of them were taken aback. And the gurgling Karles tried to keep blood in his body. Darken wiped his knife.
Then the spell was broken. The undead charged. Darken raised his hands.
“Hel, get them out of here. I can hold these back,”
Hel shot towards the three prisoners. He brandished his metal, the buzzing hurt but he managed to focus the shaping charm. Fire erupted from Darken's fingers. The undead scattered around him, past him and straight toward the other end of the hall. A purple beam flickered past Hel. The necromancers were chanting, unleashing spells. Hel reached the woman first. He dragged her out of her corner and yelled to Ambrose. An undead cat flung itself at him. He reacted with a shield, deflecting furry missile into a stampeding boar. Both stumbled over each other and fell, skittering across the floor. Ambrose accelerated past them, already heading for the exit. Hel pushed the woman after him looking about for Jack. The poor fool was still trembling by a pillar. He not react as a wolf descended upon him and knocked him to the ground. Hel wanted to go back but a hand squeezed his. The woman was still there, gripping him. Terror was etched on her face. Hel moved with her. Jack was beyond saving. A zombie skittered towards him, and the words of the disruption spell came to his lips. A single blow accompanied by a flash of light brought it down. Hel and the girl raced after Ambrose
They caught up the old man at the Hall's exit. He was wheezing, either waiting for them or catching his breath. Hel turned back in case they'd been followed. He was treated to a full view of the magic battle. Darken was a figure of blazing light in the centre of the hall, stalked on all sides by undead. The necromancers were deep in casting and Hel could feel the flow of power as they countered his magic piecemeal. He had to help. He took a deep breath, aiming his consciousness at the necromancers. Chants flowed from his lips and his spell took flight, cascading into the necromancers. One of them stumbled in their casting, clutching at his throat as the curse bloated his tongue. Hel suppressed the smirk, pulling a jar from a satchel. He unhooked a small slingshot and aimed the jar at the undead circling Darken.
A cry from behind made him drop it. He spun, only to witness Ambrose being cut down. A zombie had driven a blade into his ribs. It turned and screeched at him. Hel recognised the scorch marks on its face. The female they'd encountered on the way in.
“Why won't you help me!”
Hel jabbed a blade into her head. He summoned the disruption spell but the buzzing made him miss a word and it fizzled. He dove into her instead, knocking the zombie away from the crumpled Ambrose. He raised the metal above his head forming a hammer and brought it down on the zombie's head. She burbled at him angrily and raised her guard. Hel battered it aside easily sending her blade clanging into the wall. Hel tried the spell again. Hisses from behind distracted him. He socked the zombie one more time and turned to his rear. Burnt ghouls were creeping up on him. The nameless woman has snatched up the fallen blade, standing over dying Ambrose. Hel flicked shards at them, scrabbling for something, anything in his pockets.
“Get out!” He roared at the girl. “Run!”
She weaved beside him insistently, menacing the ghouls with the sword.
He met one of the ghouls head on as it lunged. Blade scraped against fang, slicing away the ghoul's cheek. Hel followed up with a punch and it skittered sideways. The other one was coming in on his left when streamers of fire caught it and sent it careening wildly. Darken's voice boomed throughout the chamber.
Hel stamped angrily. There was no way he was leaving. He could see from here his friend's strength weakening, the undead prowling closer as his flames ebbed. He gave the fallen ghoul a kick, and jammed a point into its neck. He was searching for his forgotten slingshot when he felt the hackles on his neck rise. He looked up and locked eyes with one of the necromancers. He was sure it was a woman; there was something about her eyes. The air rippled and a wave of force flung him into the passage. He landed on the broken zombie, still hissing and clawing. Someone rushed to him and helped him up. He peered into a worried face, still stunned. Her hands were cold on his face and she offered him a sword. Someone else was rising behind her. It was that old man. He looked so pale now. Something primal made Hel step between the woman and Ambrose. Sure enough the old man snarled at him ferally, clawing feebly with his fingernails. Hel's senses returned and he punched the risen zombie, sending fragile Ambrose reeling. There were other shapes behind him. The ghouls scuttled forth, their burns sealing up. Hel felt his head clear as he came to a decision. He grabbed the woman by the arm and dragged her up the passage. She needed little prompting
“I’ll be right back you pyromaniac,” he told himself.
It was not yet dawn and the still dark mountainside was cold and silent. It was a far cry from the oppressive weight of the tomb. All the fear and horror he'd suppressed came rushing up. The woman clutched at his arm and pleaded with him silently. Darken was arrogant, probably a sadist and worse. Hel did not want to go back in. He bade her sit there, wrapped in his cloak and did so anyway. He got about ten feet before a rush of zombies drove him back.
It was mid-morning when Hel limped into Auberge. He'd spent hours trying to fight his way inside the tomb. Every time the press of dead things had driven him back. Twice Ambrose, or what was left of him, had appeared. Both times he'd left the old man's corpse a little more broken. In the end he'd collapsed the tomb entrance, bitter with the knowledge that if his friend was still alive he'd condemned him. He said nothing to the villagers. They in turn had not dared ask. He’d failed Jack, Darken, Ambrose, everyone. When he retired to one of the abandoned huts exhausted no one complained. And he too did not complain when the silent woman, the only living thing he had left, fell asleep in his arms.
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