While Alix looked out the window, I went to investigate some file cabinets in the room looking just like the ones in Agorran’s office. If I was going to find the records on the war, they would probably be in there. Maybe it didn’t matter anymore, a conflict twenty years passed, but I was here. I could find the truth. I just needed to be fast so I could investigate what happened outside. I walked down the row of short filing cabinets lined the walls, trailing my fingers along the tops as I read the labels on the front of each drawer. Holy Arena…Byssian Ecology…Hunting and Gathering Projects….nothing jumped out at me for where to file information on wars on innocent people. Hmm…maybe under the hunting and gathering one. I don’t know what they might have gathered, but they certainly hunted. Opening the drawer, I skimmed through the tabs, finding Excursions to look promising.
Removing the folder, I set it on top of the cabinet, flipping through the pages with little care, the occasional fragile sheet tearing slightly. Soon I came upon a report discussing merfolk. Evidently that coastal city had discovered a way into Elysia, specifically, the royal family had. The vampires had found out about their efforts and staged the attack, thus convincing the Byssians that the merfolk had declared war on them. The primary goal was eliminating the royal family, the secondary goal to kill everyone else for no reason listed. Higher officials recovered whatever method the merfolk discovered, but whoever wrote this report only guessed at who might have had the information. They hadn’t even included the name of the city, probably not caring enough to worry about something so menial to them. I myself didn’t know either. Coral never mentioned it and the rest of Zissyx scorned the cities in warmer, friendlier climates, assuming their lives to be easy. Sending the Byssians to destroy what they wanted more than anything: a way into Elysia. The vampires must have laughed at the irony for a decade. Numbly, I slipped the pages into my bag.
“Got you the beads…” Cheshire said, setting the prayer beads on top of the filing cabinet with a bleeding hand.
“Cheshire? What happened?” I cried, kneeling next to her, gently holding her hand in mine. “Oh, your poor hand…want me to heal it for you?”
“I guess I’m Sheik’s blood sister now? I don’t really know…and don’t waste your spells. Alix needs them more than I do.”
“Even my lightest spell could fix this. They aren’t really good for anything else,” I explained, picking up the beads and healing her.
“Nerida, we need to go find out what the butcher’s bill is,” Alix said, staggering to his feet, heading towards the door.
“Wait, Alix! I need to heal you!” I called after him. Placing my hand on his shoulder, I gripped the beads in my other hand, calling on their power to heal him. As the magic washed over him, his face fully regained its typical shape, the blood drying up and flaking off as his wounds closed up.
“Oh my…that’s nice…thank you,” Alix said, looking surprised at his pain disappearing.
“The beads did work! You were not lying!” Sheik exclaimed, clapping. Ah, that explains how Cheshire convinced her to hand them over.
“Nope,” Cheshire chirped, leaning on her bow.
While they talked, I followed Alix jogging towards the door. As much as I didn’t want to know how many had died, I needed to face what my actions had wrought. Approaching the exit of the government building, I tried to remember what Cheshire had said after the arena. We won, most had survived, probably more than what would have without leadership, and I had done everything I could for them. Even so, even clinging to the reassurance she had offered me, the words couldn’t mask the horror of the pools of blood everywhere, their screams echoing in my memory. I…I had let so many down…they trusted me and I failed them. I felt them looking at me, but I didn’t want to meet their gaze, didn’t want to see the loss reflected in their eyes. I wanted to scream to them that I had tried, I had done everything I could to ensure their safety. I never wanted this…I hadn’t even wanted to involve them! Against such monsters, what else could I have done? The vampires were stronger, faster, had regeneration abilities and few weaknesses. What could I have done differently?
“Come on, Nerida. It’s okay. No one blames you,” Alix said, placing his hand on my shoulder.
Startled, I realized I had stopped in the doorway, lost in thought and guilt. Taking a deep, I tried to smile at Alix, though I don’t know how successful I was. It was hard to believe only one day had passed. The nightmare, the arena, the vampires, waking Ulkair and him casting foreign magic through me…I was so exhausted, so drained, and yet, there was so much that needed to be done yet. Looking back at Alix, something seemed to be…wrong. I healed him with the strongest spell I had and couldn’t see any injury yet unattended, but still he was clutching his head, leaning against the doorway to stabilize himself.
“Alix, what’s wrong?” I asked, leaning down slightly to get a better look at his face. He seemed fine a moment ago.
“Just…just go. I need a minute,” Alix murmured, looking dizzy. Had he moved too quickly?
“I’ll stay with you, Alix,” Sheik offered, walking over and holding his arm to help steady him.
“Thank you, Sheik,” Alix said, still woozy.
“I’ll go with you, Nerida,” Cheshire said, scampering over to me. “ If Sheik will stay with Alix the whole time!” Putting her hands on her hips, Cheshire stared up at Sheik, an obstinate look on her face.
“And guard the mirror,” I added. It was still an open portal to Elysia were the vampires had fled. At my words, her ears perked up, a devious gleam in her eyes. “Don’t smash it and DO NOT go through it!”
“Don’t, don’t go through there,” Alix confirmed my order.
“But it is Elysia! It is what you have been looking for!” Sheik exclaimed, licking her lips at the bloody landscape.
“It is Elysia, but it is not the Elysia we had hoped for,” Alix mournfully sighed.
“Yes, sir,” Sheik said, looking oddly like a scolded child.
“I’m so sorry, Alix….we’ll fix it! We’ll save it!” I insisted, hoping to make him feel better somehow about having his hopes and dreams bathed in blood. Yea, words fix that….
“Thank you, Nerida,” Alix said, leaning against Sheik. “Cheshire, could I borrow your guitar bow. It’s silver. If anything comes through, I’ll kill it with that.”
“Here’s some fire arrows too, just in case you need them,” Cheshire said, handing both over to the ranger. Alix nodded, slipping the arrows into his quiver and slinging the bow onto his back.
Sheik helped Alix back to the mirror, chanting “nothing in, nothing out” as she walked. Whatever was wrong with Alix, he needed stronger healing than I could provide. Perhaps Agorran would know more about what was wrong and how to fix it. There hasn’t been a problem I’ve brought to him that he hasn’t been able to help with. He was everything I had dreamed a high priest could be like since joining the clergy, only to be shunned by them as well. Agorran’s presence alone was so comforting. For possibly the first time since leaving the arena, I felt a bit of joy creeping into my heart. Finding him, everything would be okay. If…if he could still look at me, if he could tell me I had done well, considering the odds, I could believe him.
Exiting the building, I saw several Byssians fingering savage tears in their armor, drenched in blood with no wounds to show for the obvious damage that had been inflicted. They looked around, bewildered, but their gaze brought no answers.
“What happened?” I asked, walking up to a small group of blood-soaked Byssians without visible injury.
“W-we don’t know! We just stood back up! We should be dead…the vampires must not have done a very good job…I don’t know…” one of the group tried to explain.
“I-I’m glad you’re alright,” I awkwardly stated, still confounded. From what I recalled, the vampires had done a fine job of killing the Byssians, especially when tens of them had ambushed those remaining outside. Looking around, I thought I recognized a couple I had seen vampires cut down and tear to shreds. In fact, I hadn’t seen a single human corpse. That…couldn’t be right. At least a hundred must have died fighting here, so where were their bodies? Why did these bloodied men bear no wounds?
Around us, the corridor of light began to recede as the mist returned, surrounding the city but curiously not entering it. The corridor turned into a pillar, focusing over…a singular body. My heart stopped and my knees almost gave out at the sight. No….no, it couldn’t be….anyone but him….
“AGORRAN!” I screamed, tearing over to him in a mad dash, falling before his body. With each step I had prayed I was wrong, but each step only brought me closer to the unbearable truth. He glowed slightly with a green light, unmoving. What….what happened to him? I saw no cuts or marks on him, no signs of battle. No, it looked like he had been kneeling in prayer and slumped forward. Shaking, I raised my hand, gently touching the side of his face. Despair shot through me and tears welled in my eyes as I felt his skin. Cold. He…he was so cold….
I flinched as Lóin appeared beside me, carefully shifting Agorran so he was lying on his back. I hadn’t even noticed him following me. Glancing behind me, Cheshire was crying and Oriela stood apathetically watching. She might have said something, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care about her venomous words or spiteful soul right now. Her cruelty didn’t matter when all that had been good in Byss lay cold before me.
I reached my hands out to him, trembling increasingly as I began sobbing. The moment my fingers touched his robes, all my strength seemed to drain out of me as I slowly collapsed into his chest, weeping. Gripping his robes, I whispered apology after apology, begging his forgiveness for my betrayal of his infinite trust and faith. I hadn’t deserved it…how could I have when I let this happen? I failed him, I failed everyone…
I looked back at his face, so peaceful, so serene. How long had it been since he had been able to rest? In a place like Byss, with so much more undeath than life, there wasn’t time. He had done so much…but…we still needed him… I still needed him…and I couldn’t ask it of him. He had finally found rest…all I could think of was his expression in the arena, deciding to rally the Byssians to go to war, how tired he looked, the sorrow etched irreparably on his face. Hadn’t he suffered enough? And yet, I couldn’t bear the thought of fighting this battle without him. I felt my soul being crushed under the weight of losing him, having to rule Byss, the church and the government, alone. Every bit of resolve I possessed, what strength I had to hold myself together, pretending to be strong to lead these people, it all ran down my face in an endless barrage of anguish. If…if this was…..goodbye…..I needed to sing to him, as was the way of my people, the custom of the god who saved us both. It wasn’t enough, could never be enough, but it was all I had to offer. The words flowed from my mouth, melodic but terrible as my grief rang out in every note once beautiful.
You are an ocean of waves, weaving a dream,
Like thoughts become a river stream
Yet may the tide ever change, flowing like time
To the path, yours to climb
Thou seek the light with an outstretched hand
A divine blade lies before you,
So command the wake of dreams
To restore the world, cut ‘way the seams
Join in our prayer, in our song of birthrights and love
Come the sun, illuminate the sky
Pray that we may quell the dark – Light take the throne
Lost in thoughts all alone
As I sang, I felt a hand touch my shoulder and I had no doubts as to how the owner was. Even now…even in death, here he was, trying to comfort me. I felt no regret, no dismay, only kind acceptance in his guiding presence. A sort of peace came over me, like he was trying to tell me it was okay to let him go. As he had so much faith in me before, so too did he now, trusting I could go on and lead those he treasured more than life itself. Behind me I vaguely saw a flash of bronze light and heard the sound of a tuba. Was Cheshire playing her magic tuba? The lute would have been a much more soothing option in my opinion, but I wasn’t about to tell someone how to grieve or give reverence.
Descend into the abyss thou see
Where the hearts of many wander
Quietly, they wish and weave
Placing hope inside their one, pure dream
After the storm stills its wake, may all be blessed
So the fate and fallen can find rest
Your will, the water reflects, so all will know
Your hands brought the morrow
You are an ocean of waves, weaving a dream,
Like thoughts become a river stream
Yet may the tide ever change, flowing like time
To the path, yours to climb
You are an ocean of waves
As the last notes faded, I sank fully to the ground, lying beside Agorran with my face resting on his shoulder. The normally calming scent of incense clinging to him only served to remind me of my time at the temple, his kind eyes looking up at me. I knew I needed to get up, to organize everyone, burn the dead, tend to the living…gods don’t perform miracles for people too lazy to get up…but my will to do so disappeared with the sun’s warm light. Agorran…he had praised me as a blessing of Lord Eadro…though I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t in fact the godsend he had spoken of. You who made everything alright, no matter how the shadows loomed…how would I go on without you?
I heard another clash of tuba music in a flash of bronze light as Cheshire appeared beside me. What…tuba and bronze light….had she prayed to Tubatron for Agorran’s life? The force that had held the mist at bay swirled in sea green light above Agorran, passing into him. Beneath me, I heard his heart steadily start beating again.
“Nerida…” Agorran began, sitting up and wrapping his arms around me.
“A-Agorran…what happened? I’m so glad you’re alive,” I cried, burying my face in his chest once more.
“That was a beautiful song, Nerida,” Agorran said, taking my and Cheshire’s hands in his. “I’m not sure that was the right choice, but thank you nevertheless.”
“Yea, but it may not have been the best choice to stick your neck out for me either,” Cheshire said, gripping his hand.
“I am touched, truly Cheshire,” Agorran said as a single tear slide down his cheek. “But we have a very large problem. Dovev is on the way. As I was protecting the city, I could feel his attention turned this way. He marches upon us in our moment of weakness.”
“But now we have you to fight him as well,” I said, squeezing his hand. Tark had spoken of Agorran’s ability to defend the city against herds of zombies before, so surely he could do it again. Between the two of us, we wielded a great deal of divine power.
“Oriela, did you help me pray to Tubatron just now?” Cheshire asked.
“Ineffectually…” Oriela dryly commented.
“Because we are an open-minded people, and I don’t think we count any dryads among our followers,” Cheshire said, looking hopefully at Oriela
“…Is now really the time…?” Lóin asked, sighing.
“It is always the time,” Cheshire replied.
Giving her an annoyed look, Lóin turned to leave, taking few steps before Cheshire was clinging to him. Pulling on his arm, she tried to convince him to stay, occasionally casting hopeful glances at the dryad. Shaking her head, Oriela reentered the government building. Pouting, Cheshire clung to Lóin’s arm, pleading with him to wait for Dovev to arrive to fight him.
While they argued, I helped Agorran to his feet, hugging him tightly. Exhausted, he returned my embrace, resting his head on my shoulder, breathing deeply. As happy as I was to have Agorran counted among the living once more, I felt a pang of guilt feeling him weakly lean against me. He had finally been granted peace by Lord Eadro and somehow he had been pulled back into this world of pain and suffering. Clinging to Agorran, I felt his breathing even out as the chill of death fell away, his footing steadying. Beside me, Cheshire wrapped an arm around Agorran’s waist, her other hand still gripping Lóin’s sleeve. Chuckling, Agorran wrapped an arm around Cheshire as well, the three of us standing together for a few precious moments.
“I think we have perhaps a day, or a little less,” Agorran announced, his voice sounding strong again, though he was still pale.
“How do you prepare for a ghoul lord invasion?” I asked.
“We fortify the walls, boil the oil,” Agorran began.
“And we get ready to shred face,” Cheshire chimed in, playing a few notes on her guitar.
“What about the door?” I asked. Several vampires had escaped and there must have been even more skulking about Elysia, angry at our interference. If we were to be caught between two armies of the undead….
“Door? Door to what?” Agorran asked, looking between Cheshire and I.
“We found the door to Elysia,” I explained, instantly regretting it when Agorran turned to look at me, surprise and painful hope in his eyes.
“You, you found the door to Elysia?!” he asked, his bright eyes fading as he watched my face fall. “But I see…I see that this is not a good thing…the vampires have corrupted Elysia, then…”
“It will be a good thing,” I insisted, catching his despondent gaze, desperate to rekindle that hope, cradle his fragmenting dreams and make them whole. He had already lost too much. “We can save Elysia. It’ll be okay.”
“And the door remains open?” Agorran asked.
“For the time being. Sheik is guarding it,” I said, nodding.
“The door did not shut when they left?”
“No, we managed to make the last one mist,” I explained, leaving out that it was only barely, by the defiance of the laws of nature, of space and time.
“I see…well, do you know how to shut the door? I am no wizard.”
“I know someone who might know something about these portals?” Ulkair had arcane magic and knew a lot about everything else these vampires did. He probably knew something about the door itself.
“Indeed? Well, you should ask them. You deal with this, I will rally the city to defend it.”
“Wait wait wait!” Cheshire exclaimed. “That’s the thing. We need to get everyone into the arena, all the wounded. If we can gather everyone into the coliseum, I think I have a super good idea.” Cheshire’s eyes gleamed as she rubbed her hands together.
“A-alright,” Agorran said, looking concerned. “Come with me.”
“All the wounded and everyone who can heal!” Cheshire said, cheerily following Agorran. “And Lóin! Actually, I need you to do a favour and it’s so super important! You need to go into that vampire’s house and get me every bright coloured scrap of fabric you can find.”
“Come on! You and Aintai.”
“Actually, I was hoping you could gather all the silver in Byss and start plating weapons,” I said, looking at the half dragon. “We need silver weapons to fight the vampires, especially yours and Sheik’s. Anduin is already silver. You are not to leave the city and go after Dovev.”
Lóin looked torn, obviously wanting to pursue Dovev, but unwilling to defy a direct order. I hated to use this undeserved authority over him, but we did need silver weapons and he would die if he tried to fight Dovev alone. I still had lives to protect as well as I could, his included. Grunting and nodding, Lóin went to retrieve Sheik, Mimi, and Alix’s weapons before heading to the forge. Cheshire eyed Lóin warily, gauging whether she believed he would do as I said before going to the arena with Agorran.
Sighing, I looked around for a place to talk to Ulkair. Staring into space, unmoving for ten minutes is suspicious by anyone’s estimation. Or however long it may actually take. I never could tell the passing of time conversing with him. Walking around the side of the building, I sat down by the wall, drawing my knees in to my chest. Hopefully anyone who saw me would merely assume that I had wanted a moment alone.
‘Ulkair? Are you still there?’ I called out to him.
‘Nerida, Nerida, I-I’m busy! I’m doing something really important! I’m trying to break out!’
‘You can do that?’ I asked, taken aback. I expected to have to calm him down after seeing that vampire and him misting. The barrier sure was working a couple days ago…what had happened?
‘The fools! You must have done something, as they are ignoring my prison. I’m trying to bore my way out.’
‘How can I help you?’ I immediately asked.
‘I need all the souls!’
‘All of them? Which bottle?’
‘I need all the souls!’ he reiterated, desperate. ‘You got them for me anyway! I need them!’
‘Can I give you some of my energy instead? Would that help?’ He seemed to truly believe he needed all of them, but I didn’t want to lose the Byssians’ souls. They were innocent in all of this. Though I had so little of my own strength left after the harrowing day, I needed to try.
Ulkair grew very quiet and astonishment leaked through our increasingly empathic link. ‘You, you would freely give me part of your soul? That is exactly what I need.’
‘What will losing part of my soul do to me?’ He seemed a little too eager to have part of my soul, genuinely excited at the proposition, though I sensed no malice from him. Whatever reason Ulkair might have for wanting it, he didn’t want to cause me harm.
‘Well, I will hold it and keep it safe,’ Ulkair said softly, still fondly considering the notion.
‘Will I ever get it back?’ I asked, wary over losing part of my soul, hypocritical though that may be. Despite all I had done, I knew so little about souls.
‘Should you want it back, but I don’t think you will.’ I could almost see him staring at me, the faint light of the soul he had not yet taken from me reflecting in his golden eyes as he rolled it around between his long, pale fingers.
‘Why wouldn’t I?’
‘For we shall be together, Nerida,’ Ulkair said, gently caressing the side of my face. My fingers twitched as I resisted the urge to place my hand over his and lean into his warmth. ‘Don’t you want us to be together? Time is running out. If they notice, they’ll kill me.’
‘Okay…’ I breathed, my lingering trepidation largely fading as I felt my chest painfully constrict. I didn’t know what he would do with my soul, what would happen to me losing the fragment, how much it might hurt, but I knew I couldn’t allow him to die. After two thousand years, a veritable eternity compared to my mere sixteen years of slavery, freedom was reaching out to him. I couldn’t deny him that. When he cast arcane magic through me, I felt his essence envelop me, chaotic though it was. We were so close…if this would be anything like that, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
I felt Ulkair reach through me, grasping at my divine power as it began flowing away from me and into him, like it did when I cast spells. Electricity arced madly as Ulkair began boring through the barrier with all my remaining positive energy. When that was depleted, I froze, unable to breathe as his hands took hold of the core of my being, trying to syphon off a large portion of my soul. Gasping, I restricted the flow, allowing a smaller fragment to go to Ulkair.
‘Nerida, your soul isn’t enough! I need other souls!’
My heart sank at the words. Should I have let him take as much as he had wanted? ‘Of course I’m not enough, just like I wasn’t enough to save the Byssians, I wasn’t enough to save Agorran, and now I’m not enough to save Ulkair,’ I thought bitterly to myself. Breathe, just breathe…beat yourself up later, if you must, but now there’s no time for that. I may have still helped. Between my soul and another powerful one, maybe he could break through the barrier. I put my hand on the bottle, calling to mind the soul of the devourer. It was a bizarre amalgamation of many souls ground into one mass. I felt Ulkair pluck the devourer’s soul out of the jar, somehow understanding that’s the one I wanted him to take. Though if he could simply take them, why was he asking me for them in the first place?
‘Yeeees, Nerida, thank you,’ Ulkair said, using the soul to finish boring through the barrier. Creating a small, temporary hole, he sailed out into the great expanse of the ocean.
I felt Ulkair’s magic swirling around him, drawing on the remaining energy of the devourer’s soul as the arcane force imploded in upon him, exploding next to me in a flash of brilliant light. Shielding my eyes, I heard soft sizzling and the crackle of electricity beside me. Looking back, I watched in utter horror as lightning arced along his body, his skin scorched and smoking. His face, blackened and burned, turned to me smiling, happiness glowing in bright golden eyes despite the obvious agony he must have felt. I cradled him in my arms as carefully as I could, ignoring the diminishing bolts leaving a painful tingle wherever they grazed.
“Ulkair…” I breathed, my hand hovering over him. I wanted more than anything to be able to ease his suffering, but I had no more magic to draw on. Just touching him this much must have been excruciating.
“Thank you,” Ulkair whispered, trailing shriveled fingers along the side of my face, promptly passing out.
Tears welled in my eyes as panic possessed me. This….this has killed him before, or would have, if the power of Elysia hadn’t saved him…power he was no longer connected to. I needed to do something, save him, but how? Oriela…she had a healer’s kit. She was cold and hated me for no reason I’d been able to discern, but surely she wouldn’t let a man die for the sole cause that he was associated with me? If she could at least stabilize Ulkair, I could get him to another priest. Gently picking him up, confused at how light he was for being eight feet long, I ran inside.
Inside, Oriela stood beside the mirror in her tree form. Sheik and Alix were sleeping in her branches, her roots wrapped around the door to Elysia. She glanced in my direction as I leapt up the last couple steps, bursting into the room, but paid me little heed.
“Oriela, I need your help!” I called, approaching her.
“What is it?” Oriela asked, staring at Ulkair and wrinkling her nose as I laid him down before her.
“ He is injured!”
“Living with Sheik, it’s against my nature to question the kills you drag in, but what have you done to this man?”
“All I’ve done to him is help him!” I cried, furious that she would suggest I had done this to him.
“Does it live?”
“Yes, he does, but I need your help!” At that moment, Ulkair began coughing up blood, shuddering, breathing in short, pained gasps. “Can you do anything or should I be running to find a priest?” Or someone with a heart.
“I can try,” Oriela mumbled, dropping Sheik and Alix to regain use of her arms. “Nerida, he’s…this friend of yours, he won’t live long enough to make it to the temple.”
“What’s that?” Sheik grumbled sleepily, licking her lips. “I smell burnt fish.”
“Nerida, are you okay?” Alix groaned, sitting up and rubbing his head.
“I’m fine, that’s not the problem,” I said, barely restraining the tears threatening to fall. If I had just done what he’d asked, given him the souls he said he needed, would this still have happened? Had there been a way to protect him? He….he can’t die now…he can’t have come so far only to fall upon finally achieving freedom!
“You, you have a merperson with you? What, what’s happened?” Alix asked, looking at Ulkair in confusion.
“He knows about the mirror,” I vaguely explained. I hadn’t thought about his tail or trying to hide it, but there wasn’t time for that. He was dying! Glancing at Oriela, I continued in Aquan. “Remember when you overheard Cheshire and I talking about someone in my head? Well, it was him and now he’s here, but he’s hurt, as you see…”
“Where do we need to take him?” Alix asked, picking up the bottom of Ulkair’s tail.
“The arena. Cheshire has something planned,” I said, wrapping my arms around Ulkair’s torso, supporting his neck with one of my hands. Without another word, we ran towards the arena. ‘A little bit longer…just hang on a little bit longer…you can make it…’ I chanted internally, hoping he could hear me through our link. I couldn’t lose him now.
When we arrived, Cheshire was playing her guitar, looking up at the sky. Her plan was to play for everyone? Well, she was a bard and now a cleric as well. Maybe she learned something new since attaining divine power. Not one to play with lives, she must have trusted it would work and so I did as well.
Alix set Ulkair’s tail down and I sat, leaving Ulkair’s head and shoulders propped up on my lap. A priest came over, healing him enough to stabilize him. I numbly thanked her as she left to heal others. I stared at Ulkair’s scorched face, idly trailing my fingers lightly through his shriveled hair. I could tell Alix had questions as he eyed us, but I couldn’t bring myself to offer the answers.
“Someone pick me up so everyone can see me!” Cheshire called from the center of the arena. Smiling, Alix walked over and lifted her onto his shoulders as she cheered.
The song changed to something about being champions. Hopefully it inspired everyone else, but I didn’t much feel like a champion. So many lay dead, Agorran sacrificed himself, Ulkair barely clung to life, and all I could do was watch in a daze. I had never felt so drained, physically or emotionally. I hadn’t slept well, every bit of positive energy I used for spells or turning undead was gone, we’d been fighting all day, I received the miracle I prayed for, I had almost died so many times, Agorran died and came back to life, Ulkair was freed and so close to death…so much happened, to such extremes. I was so tired, but couldn’t sleep. My mind was reeling, if sluggishly. There was so much to do yet and I needed to watch over Ulkair. If I had nightmares last night, I didn’t want to know what “rest” might bring me tonight. No, it wasn’t safe to sleep yet.
“Nerida, can I sleep by you?” Cheshire asked, walking up to me. Looking around, all the wounded Byssians were asleep, leaving just the priests moving around yet to heal as many as they could.
“Yes, though I’m probably not going to sleep,” I answered. Ulkair curled up more in his sleep, his head still resting on my lap. Smiling faintly, I continued stroking his hair.
“I see that mysterious-looking person with a tail there…” Cheshire began, grinning at me.
“Oh, you do, do you?” I replied, amused at her antics.
“Yup, I sure do.”
“What about him?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe he just looks kind of familiar. Maybe you should be kind of careful. That’s all I’m saying…”
“Oh…so you know who he is then, huh…but my hand isn’t left!” I exclaimed, holding up my hand. “Look at how not left…well, it’s still left , but you know what I mean.”
“Nerida, that’s your left hand…”
“Yea, but look at how not broken it is! I can touch things! Without screaming, even.”
“Nerida, you know what…you do you. You do you,” Cheshire sighed, shaking her head as she curled up next to me.
“Okay…sleep well,” I said, thinking about how hard it is to make rational arguments when exhausted. Cheshire must have seen him when she was in my head after the house fire. She didn’t trust him, but she trusted me. That was a start.
Dovev was coming…we needed to prepare…but what did that entail? How do you fortify the walls and what’s oil? Walls such as these would be useless in Zissyx. I didn’t know where to begin, too tired to think straight. I think “boil” is what you get when you sacrifice liquids to the demons, but I couldn’t quite recall. Looking up, Agorran seemed to have everything under control. He was walking around healing people, healing a few fully and giving them orders. Nodding, they ran off to complete his will. Maybe I should sleep…but whenever I closed my eyes, panic and dread seized my heart, flowing through me until the very thought of rest was painful and I opened my eyes once more. I had to help…had to do something…but I couldn’t leave Ulkair. He still looked like a merman, what these people had believed to be an enemy of theirs. Would being with me save him or condemn him? Alix said that they didn’t blame me, but they should.
I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t leave…but I could sing….maybe that would help…something. Gazing at Ulkair’s charred face, somehow so peaceful resting in my lap, tears began creeping down my cheeks and I hadn’t the will nor energy to stop them. He was unconscious, not asleep, so close to death, and I was too drained to do anything about it. Leaning forward, I looked for a place untouched by electricity’s burning mark, pressing my lips softly against the spot as words poured from my mouth. I couldn’t even tell what song I might have been trying to sing between sobs, my voice choking with an array of emotion I was too weary to understand.
“Nerida, you need your rest. Sleep,” Agorran soothed, gently closing my eyes and laying me down beside Ulkair. “You shall have a busy day in the morning. Lord Eadro and I shall watch over the town while you sleep.”
I vaguely thought of resisting, but whatever cause I’d had for remaining awake faded at Agorran’s words, his hand on my shoulder chasing away the anxiety that had plagued me. If Agorran said all would be well, then it would be. Resting my head on the smooth scales of Ulkair’s tail, I reached for one of his hands, holding it as I drifted off to sleep.
Waking with the morning light, I felt like I had slept for days, though I knew that wasn’t possible. Glancing around, I was still in the arena, the injured everywhere. Cheshire must have indeed infused something new into her music to have granted such relief. Sighing in contentment, I laid my head back down on Ulkair’s tail, happy to find his hand yet in mine. It wasn’t the same as twinning tails, but I hadn’t figured out how to do that with legs yet. I lightly ran my thumb across the back of Ulkair’s hand, watching his calm face. His breathing had evened out a lot, but he still looked worse for the wear.
Behind me, I heard Cheshire yawn, her back pressed against mine. Lazily peering in her direction, Alix chuckled as she snuggled into his chest, his arm draped protectively over her. I think Cheshire whispered something to Alix, but their words were their own. Looking back towards Ulkair, I saw golden eyes gazing back at me with such warmth and something else I had felt from him before, but couldn’t quite put my finger on. Behind him, Agorran was approaching us with noted reluctance. He must have noticed we were awake, but was hesitant to end the brief moment of happiness we had forged among the remnants of war, at the dawn of another battle we were to wage. I didn’t want to move, didn’t want to leave the ephemeral comfort I had found, but I had already tarried too long. Ulkair turned to see what I was observing behind him, scowling at the sight of the high priest. Evidently Ulkair hadn’t forgiven him for worshiping Elysia.
“Hey, I’m just going to speak with High Priest Agorran, but I’ll be back to heal you soon,” I softly said, squeezing his hand, loath to lose the contact.
Groaning, he held tight to my hand, faintly trying to pull me back down as I was attempting to sit up. Giggling at his efforts, I pulled my hand away, placing it under his neck. Relieving my legs from their status as Ulkair’s pillow, I gently lowered his head to the ground. Looking at me and pouting, Ulkair curled up a bit tighter, flicking his caudal fin as he closed his eyes again.
“Good morning,” I greeted Agorran, walking up to him, though I don’t know that “good” was the proper adjective to use.
“Good morning,” he called back, smiling softly at me despite obvious fatigue. “We have twelve hours, perhaps fewer, before Dovev arrives.”
I inhaled deeply, slowly releasing the breath as I considered his words. So little time…always so little time…at least with Cheshire’s healing music, everyone seemed to be healing faster than they would otherwise. Everyone except our high priest. True to his word, he watched over everything as I had slept. “I feel perhaps it is time for you to rest,” I said, placing my hand on his shoulder.
“Let us watch over everyone for you,” Cheshire chimed in.
“Yes, indeed, I shall retire,” Agorran readily agreed.
“Do you want me to sing you to sleep?” Cheshire offered, pulling out her guitar bow and looking up at him.
“I have not been sung to sleep since I was a young child, but I have seen what your song has done and I believe that might be best,” Agorran said, amusement creeping into his weary voice.
“I’ll go fill in Sheik and Oriela once he’s asleep,” Cheshire called to me as they walked towards the temple.
Nodding, I began to wander back to where Ulkair was sitting when Lóin entered the arena, walking straight for Alix. Alix gestured to me to join them, along with Sheik and Oriela, whenever they may have arrived.
“Dovev is almost here,” Lóin announced.
“How far away?” Alix asked, shocked.
“Four hours march.”
“How do you know?” Oriela asked in her typical skepticism, crossing her wooden arms.
“I saw him from the wall,” Lóin dryly stated.
“Four hours…this is bad. I shall go scout the army and see if there are any traps,” Alix said before staring off into the sky for a few moments. I guess Cheshire had something to say about his plan.
“I’ll go with you,” Lóin offered. “I was planning on leaving in half an hour anyway.”
Sheik ran off with a black pelt she had procured sometime or another, happily working on crafting something. Sighing, Oriela followed.
“Lóin, we must speak with Cheshire first, and then we will go,” Alix said, shaking his head slightly.
“ You’re going to speak with Cheshire,” Lóin interjected.
“Be safe,” I bid them. “I have work I must attend to here.” First and foremost, I had a crispy Ulkair to heal. Walking back to Ulkair, I noticed that he had at some point given himself legs, otherwise just watching me. “Dovev will be here in about four hours,” I announced, sitting next to him. “Cast spells as you want, but be careful not to hurt any Byssians.”
“Awwww…okay,” Ulkair said, frowning as he crossed his arms and looked away from me.
“Don’t pout at that! Think of all the ghouls you can kill instead.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, looking happy again, too happy for the cause to have just been killing ghouls or even vampires. “Nerida, you have done a wonderful thing. I’m free.”
“So what are you going to do now?” I asked. I had hoped to talk to him about casting atonement on him before releasing him, but that hadn’t been an option, not without risking the vampires finding out.
“Why, we shall go to Elysia for the door is open,” he cheerfully said as though it was obvious.
“There’s a ghoul army on its way here,” I countered, staring at him. I told him the army was only four hours away. How could we leave now?
“Exactly. Let’s leave. Why should we stay and save this doomed town?”
“They’re all counting on me to lead them. I can’t abandon them.”
“Yes, but Nerida, we can make Elysia beautiful again for them.”
“We can’t make Elysia beautiful for them if there isn’t a ‘them’ to make it beautiful for,” I argued.
“Eh, for whoever’s left,” Ulkair commented nonchalantly, shrugging.
“…I gave you part of my soul…can’t you help me fight off some ghouls?” I asked. I didn’t like using such a tactic, using my involvement in his freedom to influence him, but I didn’t know how to make him care about the Byssian’s lives. I didn’t know how I made him care about my life.
“Well, Nerida, if this is that important to you, you did free me,” Ulkair conceded, though I hardly felt like I had “won” anything. I didn’t want him to feel indebted to me.
“…I’m sorry you were electrocuted…” I whispered, truly upset I hadn’t been able to spare him the pain.
“A small price to pay,” he said, tracing the scars forming along his face.
Reaching over, I placed my hands on his, casting a healing spell. Relieved, I watched the horrible burns fading and glass falling out of his neck as magic poured into him. For good measure, I called my lowest healing spell to my hand, poking him in the nose to cast it. Laughing, he rubbed his nose. I don’t think I’ve ever heard something so wondrously melodious, the sweet sound filling me with untold bliss I saw reflected in his bright eyes.
“I didn’t even need to give you a stone jellyfish,” I commented, thinking about the plans I’d had to go visit him after the arena, in the week we were supposed to have off before the government would have given us another task to complete. The only time I had heard him laugh was at my greatest shame and it contained no mirth, only pained wonderment at how what he seemed to think so small a thing could haunt me so. I had seen some performer in the street turn one object into another by placing a cloth over it. The children around him loved it and Áine never failed to smile when I cast light on rocks or different objects around our small house. I’d wanted to cast stone shape on a rock I found and turn it into a jellyfish, to maybe make him laugh and give him something to look at until I could free him. Realizing I had wanted to do a cheap “magic trick” on a wizard and admitted it to him, I blushed, looking to the side.
“Yes, it would have been a beautiful gift,” Ulkair said, chuckling lightly.
“Thank you…” I mumbled. His laughter…any embarrassment would be worth it for that sound.
“Alright, Nerida, I will destroy the undead, but you must promise we will go through the gate and we will save Elysia.”
“Of course,” I easily agreed. “I had always planned to.”
“Soon,” he insisted, leaning towards me, holding my hands.
“Do you know how long the door will be open?” I asked. How much time might we have to face two armies of the undead?
“Until they can close it. I don’t know how long that might take them.”
“Who was that vampire we tried to kill that you violently hated?”
“Vhailor,” Ulkair spat, his face darkening. “He was once the greatest of us. I was a more powerful wizard than he was, but he inspired and he rallied and he, he lead our people. And now, he leads them in damnation."
“How did he know I was associated with you at all?” How did these vampires seem to know so much about me?
“Well, he knows everything that goes on in my cave.”
“Hnnn…so he saw me there?” Scrying….that would make finding them before they found us hard.
“He must have.”
“How long have you had this trident?” He could’ve recognized Anduin as well, though in general I do rather stand out here.
“Coming on….eight hundred years?” Ulkair said, touching his hand to his chin as he mulled over the centuries past.
“How did you acquire him?” Eight hundred years ago, he should still have been trapped in his cave, so he couldn’t have found it on his own.
“Before I sent people out to steal souls for me, I sent people out to find things for me and bring them back. He was found in a ship.”
“I need to consecrate him…” I said, sadly gazing at Anduin.
“Ah yes, he is a bit…tainted, isn’t he,” Ulkair remarked, eyeing Anduin’s red tinge.
“Yea…souls of the damned do that, it would seem,” I mournfully commented. Mentioning damned souls, I thought of the jar. I wanted to steal as many souls as I could to save them from damnation. They were the souls of his people, and I wanted them to find rest, I just didn’t know how. Digging through my bag, I grabbed the jar he gave me, holding it out in front of me. “Can anything be done with the vampire souls?”
“Yes, should you care to save them, which you should. They’re my people,” he said almost accusingly. Maybe he was angry that vampire souls had been used in fighting Vhailor, but they were stronger than the others.
“That’s why I tried to catch them. I wanted to get more, but I can only have so much positive energy to expend,” I explained, feeling guilty. I wanted to save them….know that I wanted to save them…
“We could pull apart the individual souls, consecrate them, and send them on. What about that second jar of souls you stole from Vhailor?”
“What about it?” I warily asked. Ulkair inquiring about souls didn’t necessarily end well.
“We could shake mountains with that.”
“Why do the mountains need shaking?” Leave the mountains alone, leave the souls alone, just use your own strength! It’s not lacking!
“I could level the entire ghoul army with that. Sure, it would damn them, but don’t worry about that.”
“You, you’ve figured out that I kind of care about you, right?” I said, trying not to scream at him that this , wielding souls, might have had something to do with what landed him in a cave in the ocean in the first place. “The answer isn’t always spending souls.”
“Indeed not,” Ulkair said, giving me the impression that he had merely been testing me, though I didn’t understand why. I wasn’t the one with the soul-spending problem. “I’ve come to see that. No, I did not think you would agree. Perhaps we shall have to go about it the more conventional way, but truly, if it comes down to it, I will carry us away and leave the rest of these people to die.”
“If the two of us are fighting, it won’t come to that,” I said, fully believing what I had said. Between the two of us, we could do anything.
“I bet you’re right,” he said, smiling, maybe even inspired by my words and conviction.
Turning to Anduin, I laid him on the ground before me, holding my hands over him to cast consecrate. I hadn’t ever cast it before and the spell was naturally meant for a location, not an item, but that wasn’t about to stop me. My other magic tended to flow from my hands into people, and I could do the same with consecrate. Thinking of my happiness at having UIkair with me and convincing him to fight with me, I felt energy pouring through me, flooding Anduin and strengthening our bond even further. Soothing green energy banished the evil red haze, glowing even after I stop casting the spell. I looked at my hands, curious that such power had come from them and yet I felt no further fatigue than I might have from casting any spell of that grade, unusual though the magnitude was. Picking Anduin up, I held him with his tines pointing toward the sky, pressing my forehead against his haft as I thanked Lord Eadro for blessing me once more. He blessed my trident, my shield, and I was beginning to believe he lead me to Ulkair as well.
“I really did choose right,” Ulkair said, looking at me and the glowing trident in my hands.
I could only stare at Ulkair, taken aback at his words. Choose right for what? He had said I was different before, but different than what? I felt no malice coming from him, only warmth, happiness, contentment. What had he chosen and how could I be the answer?
Looking cheerier than he had in a long while, Alix came strolling up with a fluffier, far cuter version of Doggie Woggie just as Cheshire was returning from wherever she may have gone.
“Night Eyes, meet Cheshire,” Alix said, walking up to Cheshire, not far from where Ulkair and I were sitting. “And Nerida.” Oh good, he caught me gawking….very discreet, Nerida…
“I’ve never seen something so fluffy,” I mumbled, walking over to Night Eyes all the same.
“ That is a dog!” Cheshire exclaimed, pointing at Night Eyes. “I mean, he’s not actually a dog, he’s actually a wolf, which is more awesome.”
“Are you dogs?” I happily asked the fluffy creature, running my hands through his long, soft fur.
“A dog!” Sheik cried, also seeming to be familiar with this mystical beast, opting to drop a huge pile of leather and roll around on the ground and wrestle with him. “What a cute puppy!” Sheik rolled around with Night Eyes, laughing happily before she remembered she was doing something with leather. Patting him on the head, she retrieved her leather and headed towards the barracks.
Wagging his tail, Night Eyes walked back to Cheshire and I, nuzzling both our faces. He licked Cheshire’s face, his tail thumping on the ground when she giggled and scratched his ears. I was just happy that he let me pet him without growling like Tad Cooper did. Glancing behind me, Cheshire seemed to notice that Ulkair was awake. And without clothing. Blinking a couple times, she dug through her bag, pulling out a set of clothing.
“Here! Here are some very nice, fine silk clothes that may or may not have belonged to a scumbag who doesn’t need them anymore. Complete with boots. I got two pairs,” Cheshire offered, handing Ulkair the clothes and setting the boots next to him on the ground.
“Oh, clothes. Yes, it’s been a long time,” Ulkair mused, pulling the garments on.
“But it looks like you remember how to use awkward sticks,” I commented as he stood to don the pants. I had wondered if moving about on land would vex him at all after so long. I couldn’t imagine forgetting how to swim, but neither had gone two thousand years without doing so.
“Yes, yes I do, Nerida,” Ulkair replied, amused.
“They’re hard…” I said, pouting, recalling the troubles I’d had learning to run before I knew how to stand.
“I remember,” Ulkair said in wry amusement.
“Do you have a spare shirt?” I asked Cheshire. After the chain shirt burned into my shoulder and the general discomfort of the metal on my skin, I wondered if I shouldn’t wear something under it. Digging through her bag, Cheshire pulled out a blue shirt similar to Ulkair’s, handing it to me. Thanking her, I slipped the chain shirt off, pulling the new shirt on before replacing my armour. Cheshire stared at me, blinking a few more times. Walking away, she shook her head, muttering something about merfolk.
“Sister, have some hydra meat. Let it not go to waste!” Sheik insisted, thrusting some dripping hydra meat towards Cheshire.
“Let’s…not eat raw hydra meat,” Cheshire said, grimacing. “Go cook some of it, eh?”
Shrugging, Sheik returned to where the hydra’s body laid, crawling into it and biting off chunks as she went, smearing the blood across herself as if enough didn’t drip onto her by being inside the creature.
“Truly, it would be a waste to not eat it…” Oriela commented.
“Come! Let us eat before the battle and regain our strength!” Sheik called, hacking large chunks off the felled beast, the Byssians joining her, blades in hand.
Lóin and Alix swung cloaks across their shoulders, heading swiftly towards the gates of the city. Cheshire stared heartbroken after them, holding her hand out as if it could draw them back to her as she so desperately wished to. I thought to speak to her, lay a hand on her shoulder, but I decided against it. I couldn’t make Alix or Lóin stay as she wanted nor did I know what words might comfort her, if such words existed. No, maybe it would be best to leave her alone with her thoughts.
“You haven’t eaten for two weeks, have you?” I asked Ulkair. Not since I was there and he ate the assassin. He didn’t say anything, just staring hungrily at the hydra.
Refusing to allow anyone to be hungry in my presence, I strode towards the mystical beast. One of the Byssians handed me a chunk of meat and I proceeded to the sacrificial altar I heard them calling a “fire pit.” If Ulkair was from land, be probably preferred to eat hot food, unpleasant though I found it to be. Still, I cooked enough for both of us, recalling the incident with the owlbear. When the meat changed colour and steam readily rose off, I figured the demon had tasted enough of it. Looking at it, I cast purify on it anyway, just in case.
“Here you go,” I said, offering Ulkair most of the food. He was bound to need more than me after starving for so long. “I sacrificed it and everything.”“Thank you, Nerida,” Ulkair beamed. “This is delightful. You killed it yourself, didn’t you?”
“Well, I helped,” I admitted, blowing on my food. Lóin did most of the work with his icy breath. Sounds handy for cooling off icky hot food.
Ulkair bit into the smoking hydra meat, eating it as fast as the temperature would allow. Giggling, I continued blowing on mine. I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten like that before, even never having been so long deprived of foodstuff. I didn’t understand the fascination with hot food, but if it made him happy, that was enough.
“We need to wake up High Priest Agorran so that he may prepare for the approaching army,” I announced once the two of us had eaten our fill. “He said something about “boiling the oil,” whatever that means, and he should eat as well.”
“Do we need to worry about this army, Nerida? The Byssians seem to know warcraft, can’t we just go? I’m sure they can handle it. It’s just boiling oil, after all. You don’t even like fire.”
“Yes, we do. They need our help. And I don’t suppose they intend to use the fire on me, so my feelings about demons are irrelevant.”
“Always ready to save the weak… alright, let’s help them prepare,” Ulkair grinned, a hard edge to his voice. “ ‘Elysia knows’ they need all the help they can get,” he said with a slightly mocking tone.
Sighing, I pick up some more cooked hydra meat for Agorran and we walked towards the temple. As much as I hated to have to rouse him after so short a time, it was better that I wake him than that a ghoulish army do the same.
Easily making my way through the temple, I found Agorran’s room back near where I had stayed what felt like an eternity ago. Two days….so much can happen in two days. Glancing back at Ulkair, I smiled and knocked on the door, listening for acknowledgement. No good…of course Agorran would be too tired to wake up from just that. He’ll…he’ll pardon my impertinence in knowingly entering his chambers whilst he slumbered. Opening the door, I crept in, feeling the need to be quiet despite my intent in entering. Agorran still looked so pale, so exhausted, but there was no more time for rest.
“High priest Agorran?” I called, lightly placing my hand on his shoulder. “I’m terribly sorry to wake you up, but the army is just about here.”
“Truly?” Agorran said, jumping out of bed. “I thought they were farther away, but they never rest.” Rubbing his face, he looked around his room, trying to orient himself and organize his thoughts.
“I’m sorry….it doesn’t look like you do either,” I commented, guilt eating at me. He had come to know rest, as painful as it had been for those left alive, and now we were facing a ghoul army.
“No, Nerida, there is no rest for the high priest of Byss,” Agorran sighed, pulling his typical robes on over the plain white garment he had slept in.
“Well, if sleep must be in short supply, food shouldn’t be,” I said, handing him the hydra meat. He probably wouldn’t stop to eat if not provided with food, too busy caring for everyone else to take the time. I understood, often going without for Áine.
“Th-thank you,” Agorran said, looking startled and a bit touched, though impatience remained.
“We have about four hours yet,” I informed him, clearing some papers on his desk so he could comfortably eat. Exhaling in slight relief, Agorran sat down at the desk, his mind on everything but the food in front of him as he mindlessly ate the hydra meat.
“Now, I would ask something of you, Nerida,” Agorran declared between bites. “Before the undead attack, I always consecrate the walls, but I’m not strong enough to do it by myself. Would you help me with this?”
“Of course,” I replied easily, expecting much greater a request from the seriousness in his tone. Perhaps I was his commander, but he was my high priest. My spells were his to direct as he saw fit. I looked at Anduin, pleased to have a sense of how to consecrate objects before I was to attempt to help Agorran protect us from the undead.
Agorran smiled, going back to eating. His eyes again grew distant as he considered what else he needed to do.
“I’ll wait outside for you to finish preparing yourself,” I said, bowing slightly, walking towards the doorframe Ulkair was leaning against.
As I approached, Ulkair stood up straight, stepping out ahead of me. I closed the door behind me. Ulkair sighed, standing next to me and leaning on the wall again. Idly he scratched at his arms, looking around, oddly antsy. Was it the clothing he was yet unaccustomed to or this temple that was making him uncomfortable? When he didn’t stop scratching, I reached out for his hand, holding it in mine. Looking slightly more content, we waited the few minutes it took for Agorran to get ready.
“We’ve learned from sad experience that mere walls don’t offer much protection from the evil of the undead,” Agorran stated when he emerged, leading us to the walls.
Placing my hand on the wall, Agorran directed me to write Lord Eadro’s symbol as I cast consecrate. Moving in tandem, we slowly made our way around the entire city, passing the occasional symbol permanently inscribed on the wall. I didn’t recognize the symbol in the middle, other than that it was divine in nature, but words in Celestial were written around it, forming a circle. Agorran explained that they aided in consecrating the walls, extending the spell farther than it might ordinarily go along the stone surface.
By the time we had finished, the remaining clerics were stationed around the wall, spaced between groups of archers. The melee fighters mostly stood in wait before the gates, poised for anything that might try to break through. Walking up to the top of the wall with Agorran, I could see the army approaching, more beings than I have ever seen at one time marching towards us. Their numbers, there must have been thousands.“I can see ghouls in the vanguard, but I also see many skeletons,” Alix said, peering out at them. “He must have rallied more than just his ghouls.”
The undead army stopped about six hundred feet away, just awaiting orders. I feared no single undead creature, or most things, preferring to instead focus my energy on evaluating how to survive with the least amount of pain possible. This…how do you face this? How could anyone face this? Glancing around at the Byssians, their faces were somber. Most of them had noticed my presence, looking to me. Okay, calm down, Nerida. Lord Eadro will not fail you now. There is no opponent you cannot fell. In the distance, I saw a familiar draconic figure that seemed to have more heads than it did before. I knew there were some cults that did flesh crafting rites and it looked like Dovev had discovered the art. As it drew closer, I saw something perched atop it far too large to be Dovev at such a distance. We can take down the big ones first, the walls will hold the little ones in the meantime. They were strong and they were many, but we would find a way.
“Ulkair, do you know anything about flesh crafting?” I asked, tearing my gaze from the horror before me to look at Ulkair.
“Yea, it’s pretty evil,” Ulkair said, appearing to be bored.
“I think that’s what that is,” I said, pointing at the creature on the wyvern. “Is there a way to counteract it?”
“Actually, you have to chop them to bits and burn it, but only the very strongest weapons made of adamantium can pierce flesh golems.”
“Is magic effective?”
“Oh no, actually, it does nothing to it. Complete immunity and they have no weak spots. That’s rather terrifying,” Ulkair said, turning to me and smiling. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” I couldn’t begin to guess what might have made him smile, but I didn’t comment on it.
“Throw me at it!” Sheik began chanting from the ground below, shaking her halberd before her. “Mimi, get me up there! Drop me on it!”
The wyvern flew by and the flesh golem jumped off, landing heavily thirty feet before the gate. Turning to look at us, the golem began beating its sword on its shield. To my left, the air wavered and Dovev appeared but a few feet from me.
“Oh, hello, friends,” Dovev said grinning, playing his accordion as a nauseating stench wafted off him. “I would just like all of you to know that if you just open the gates, I will kill no one. I will just go to Elysia and won’t be a problem to you.”
The mirror…I forgot about the mirror…the vampires could rally their own forces at any moment and we would be trapped between two armies of the undead. The ghouls would happily devour the Byssians and the vampires would steal their souls and use their blood for terrible magic. Dovev was lying. Of course, he was lying, but about what? It didn’t matter. We could accept no deal of his.
“I’ll give you a few moments to think about it. My champion will receive your answer.”
“I’ll give you a few moments to think about this!” Sheik screamed, scrambling up the wall and lunging at Dovev with her halberd.
Dovev turned sideways and disappeared just before her halberd sank into a rotting sack of flesh left behind. The sickening spray exploded into gas, the greenish haze descending upon us. I fought not to retch at the overwhelming stench, covering my mouth with my free hand.
“We must fight, or else-“ Loin began before Sheik began cheering excitedly at the prospect of battle.
Cheshire began playing wildly on her guitar bow. Divine power swirled around her, focusing in on her and exploding out, disrupting the first couple ranks of the army. The front ranks dropped their battering rams, many of the rest dropping their weapons or seeming to forget how to use them properly. Wildly, they charged the wall and clawed at it as the divine energy of the consecrated barrier burned them.
“Archers, fire on the wyvern!” I ordered, pointing at now rotting, three-headed beast.
You’re undead now, huh? That puts you under my dominion. Smirking, I raised Anduin, calling forth the infinite glory of Lord Eadro’s divine light, shooting the energy through the wyvern into the ranks of the undead. The wyvern shrieked, turning around and fleeing. Beneath it, several skeletons erupted in pillars of flame.
“Do you have any spells that are good against large groups?” I asked Ulkair as he looked out over the army. “Such as the massive horde of undead?”
“Oh, I suppose,” he grumbled, lethargically casting a fireball.
“You’re such garbage!” Cheshire cried, staring into Ulkair.
“They’re not threatening Nerida yet,” Ulkair said as if that explained anything. “What do you want from me, little Cheshire?”
“Nothing, Ulkair…” Cheshire pouted, looking back at her guitar she was still playing.
“Guys…” I began, looking between the two of them. Ulkair smirked, turning back to watch the fire demons he summoned dancing around a group of zombies.
Lóin held his axe over his head, leaping from the wall, trying to charge the flesh golem. He missed, tumbling to the side and dodging a great swing from the golem. Spinning around, he kicked the golem in the side, slashing the construct as it stumbled. Lóin jumped back to avoid the blood and organs that poured out of the golem’s new wound, staring it in the eyes all the while. Cheshire held her hand out to Sheik, casting enlarge person on her. Screaming, Sheik jumped off the wall, landing on the flesh golem tearing into the hole that Lóin made with her halberd. Even more gore flooded out as the golem roared. Sheik jumped behind it to try to avoid the visceral spray, but she wasn’t quite fast enough. Thankfully, she seemed to know better than to lick ghoul blood off of herself as was her typical want.
On the wall, Alix raised his bow, launching a fire arrow into the golem’s shoulder, slowing its movements. Beside him, Mimi took flight, swooping down to the golem, flanking with Sheik. Hooking her scythe into the hole Lóin and Sheik had made, she flew up, cleaving the monster in half. Blood rained down as the two halves thudded to the ground, crushing a couple zombies on either side.
As the wyvern approached where I assumed Dovev to be near the back of his ranks, the once magical beast shuddered and halted. Turning around, it flew towards us once more. Well, I would turn it again or Ulkair would launch a fireball into its face. The battle was going well so far. We just had to hold them off and kill the strongest of the ghouls, the one who had nearly destroyed the temple without in truth even being there. Taking a deep breath, I held Anduin a bit tighter in my hand. I had to believe in our combined strength. Lord Eadro had marked Dovev Ichtaca for death and so today, he would finally truly die.