May 24 2008

Chapter 24

Jeremy @ 1:33 pm

Asheren, consumed within the darkness that had been cursed upon him took cover and concealment in what he thought a suitable spot, which did not say much at the best of times. The thundering of heavy footsteps could be heard from the forest behind him and without hesitation he lowered himself down into the surrounding shrub, feeling the blades of grass sweep across his flaky face.

Turning his head to the left and searching his magical perceptions, an army of glowing light forces charged through the forest roughly two hundred meters behind him, the motion of the heavy-footed army was swift and with basic orientation Asheren realised that his companions had no idea what was heading their way.

Asheren contemplated a number of spells that may prevent the army crossing the bridge but nothing was realistic enough to try, instead an attempt at entering the tower through the sea docks appeared as his best option. If successful he could warn his friends about the mass of troops massing outside the tower walls.  If unsuccessful, well it couldn’t be any worse than lying here blinded.

Ancient incantations mumbled from the old mans lips as his body rose from the ground, and he floated his way across the beach and over the settled sea towards the tower, his memory and orienteering skills providing him with his only guidance for the target, his eyes still useless under the curse the Priest had cast upon him. Being perfectly aware that any cover he may have had was now blown he made haste across the water.

Umf!!!  cried Asheren dully, as he collided headfirst with the tower wall.  He desperately clung to the rock, the jagged edges of its surface cutting into his withered hands. Only moments before his hands gave way under the pain the magician uttered another spell and he began to levitate above the water. Wiping his blood soaked hands on his robes he began to pull his way around the tower in search of the dock entrance.

There is no way I can miss it, unless I have already passed it?  He thought.

He moved on . He felt cold air chill his face and heard the distant noises of crewmen over the crashing surface.  At last, the entrance!

Once there, Asheren s perceptions provided him with sufficient information and confirmation that their were no magical forces within the docks except for the faint pulsating green glow in a far corner. Asheren s ears tuned in on the voices, panic and fear were prevalent in their tone.  He had to trust in his destiny and believe that these were Amos’ crewmen and not soldiers.

He lowered himself into the water and would make his last efforts swimming towards the docks, surely someone would hear or see him and aid him to safety and as he reached the water his tired limbs could not keep him afloat and he began to sink like a water-logged mage.

Help! It s Asheren! Glug Helglug . As he went under he felt a strong tug on his robe and was pulled to safety.

Put him over there with the old man, we have to continue with our orders!  A man with authority ordered.

Asheren, scrambling across the deck of the boat towards the pulsating green light he had noticed at the cave entrance. Perhaps I may get aid with my sight from this being.

Who s that? Who this? Who are you  Asheren mumbled in his blindness and his hands became tangled in the ship’s rigs and fell to the floor before the being which existed only in his mind as a dull, green glow.

It is a friend of Lysar s a mentor of some sort  A voice spoke quickly from behind him.

Lionar? Is that you?  Asheren became curious.

Lionar’s aura pulsed more brightly for a brief moment and then returned to a weak glow.

It was obvious to Asheren that Lionar s condition was not good. He sighed deeply and flumped himself against a barrel and began to lose himself in deep thought, he was no longer alone but the danger had not gone yet.

This is hopeless, I must lift this curse. There is an army outside, we must make haste.  Were the only helpful words he could come up with in his useless state. The blindness had overwhelmed the magician for almost two hours now.

* * * * *

Ulrich and Amos headed away from the main staircase towards the three remaining guards, with five sailors in tow. The guards, upon seeing their captain cut down and faced with almost certain death laid their arms down and surrendered.

Surprised, Ulrich had to prevent himself from cutting them down, “what would Lysar do?” he thought to himself. Taking no chances and assessing their numbers against the remaining priests and guards he ordered three of the sailors to watch the guards while he and Amos bolted towards the main doorway, Lysar faced off against the priest, Berrak was trapped with Keir in between the two living doors.

The priest lifted his hand towards Lysar’s chest and muttered a magical incantation, his hands and upper chest began to glow and eerie orange, his aura brightened and a large bolt of fiery energy shot from his palm hitting Lysar on her leather breastplate, scorching her neck and chest badly, she staggered backwards.

Ulrich holstered his dagger and lifted his crossbow for a snapshot at the priest. He hadn’t had much of a chance to examine this strange new weapon but it felt and fired like a regular light crossbow, the cartridge that clipped into the side of the bow was unusual as were some of the mechanisms that fed new bolts into the empty firing chamber, he made a mental note to find a good weapon-smith and have more of these made, there could be a market for them with war coming. He pulled the trigger and a loud snap indicated that failure of the device, one of the bolts was jammed in the chamber. He quickly let off the remaining bolt which logged itself in the wall behind the priest.

“Piece of shit!” he yelled in disgust, throwing the bow to his side where it dangled harmlessly, he heard a click as the next bolt loaded itself in the un-jammed chamber. Perhaps they wont sell so well after all.

As the distance between them closed, Ulrich attempted to taunt the priest to give Amos a chance at an undefended attack.

“Raise that stinkin’ hand again and I’ll cut it off and feed it to my dog!”

The priest raised his hand again with a wry grin, dodging attacks from both Amos and the Sailor, he muttered a few words. Before he could complete his spell Ulrich lunged at him, his Kynack making a wet sound as it entered the priests left collarbone, Ulrich gave it a twist, the Priest felt his bones and cartilage cracking and snapping from the violence of the attack and fell to the ground, helpless.

Ulrich grabbed the priest around the neck and held a dagger to his neck, he screamed in rage, “Let the prince be or pretty boy here is fish food”

The guards, horrified and obviously outnumbered looked to the priest for guidance. Through the pain of the wound the priest knew that if he let the prince go, all would be lost, but he also knew that the high priest was on the way, and dead, he couldn’t help kill these infidels. He would get his chance, soon enough.

“Let him go” he gurgled.

The guards released their grip and the prince leapt to safety behind Ulrich and Amos.

The Tower Door OpensJust as Ulrich thought he would have a chance to take a breather, sunlight splashed into the tower’s entrance, a moist sound of one of the massive living doors opening revealed another robed priest with eight Lugroki at his back.  The sounds from outside was horrendous – growling, snarling and spitting – Ulrich knew that it would take a lot more than eight to make such a racket.

“Shit, shit shit shit, hold the doorway, we can’t let them get into the main entrance area!”

Ulrich threw the priest out of the doorway, withdrawing his Kynack as he did, blood gushed from the open wound as the priest was caught by the guards, throwing them off balance.

The obstruction removed, the second door closed with a loud squelch.

Ulrich, Amos and one of the sailors took a defensive position in front of the door, if they could hold this area long enough for the others to search the rest of the tower, they may just get out of this alive!

The living door began to move again, with a soggy squelch the iris opened a slither, then some more…Ulrich stood firm, he could see the priest holding his hand up against the door, and had a thought.

He sheathed his weapons and lunged through the hole, grabbing for the priests arms.

Amos raised an eyebrow, “What the hell are ye doin’ Ulrich, you crazy goat herder!”

Ulrich had a good hold of the priest’s arm and the door stopped opening, the Lugroki on the other side of the door were violently bashing and pummelling his arms but he wasn’t letting go.  With one great heave he used all his strength to pull on the priest, leaving the surprised Lugroki on the other side of a closed door with nothing more than the empty robe of their commander.

Amos suddenly realised what was going on, saw the robe-less and quite surprised priest at his feet and let fly with the poker, cracking his skull open and spilling his brains all over the floor.

“Och, I think I hit him a wee bit hard.”

“umm, yeah you did” replied Ulrich. “Oh well, he was a bad man”

* * * * *

Lost in his thoughts for only a matter of minutes, a crash of barrels from onboard the vessel startled Asheren. He looked around to see Amos s crew performing their hurried duties. The curse had been lifted! Without hesitation the mage leapt fifty feet from the boat across the water to the stairwell and began to dash up the staircase.

Ulrich thought he heard the faint sound of the voice of Ash “I can see, I can see!!!” in the distance, but dismissed it as the sounds of the Lugroki beating on the entrance door.

With the door securely close, for now, they had a minute to contemplate. Ulrich looked around and saw the three sailors he has assigned to the guards standing around nearby.

“Where’s Berrak?”

The sailors pointed towards the stairs and upwards.

At that moment, they heard a loud crash and the sound of hundred of heavy armoured feet entering the main temple area to their left, the Lugroki has found another way into the tower and it wouldn’t be long before they flooded the whole area.

Asheren suddenly appeared in the stairwell.

“Where’s Berrak?”  They all pointed upstairs.  Asheren ran up them.

After picking himself up he climbed more slowly.

Ulrich shook his head.

“Oh shit, I hope they know what they’re doing. We have to get out of here. Make for the ship, get it ready to sail NOW”

They ran for the stairs and headed down.

Amos was bringing up the rear and told them all to go on ahead.

“I’ll be stayin’ and showin’ the Lugroki bastards the business end of this!”  he brandished the poker menacingly.  “They’ll nay be taking me alive!”

Ulrich shouted back to him.  “No Amos, you cannot lay down your life for ours.  I can’t allow that to happen.  You’re already a hero man, don’t make yourself a martyr as well!”

Lysar halted her mad dash down the stairs.  “And Amos?  You’re the captain, we need you to sail the ship.”

Amos cocked his head to one side.  “Aye, girly.  There is that.”  he grinned and rejoined the group

When he reached the top, Asheren noticed Berrak crouched over a body in front of him, the smell of wretched blood reeking through the hallways. Focusing for a brief moment the power of the Sea-drake Amulet was identified and a bright glowing force appeared for the magician. The body Berrak was focussed on was vaguely familiar to Asheren but was not significant to draw his mind away from the Amulet, the power surrounding the room was strong within Asheren s mind.

Berrak!! What are you doing? In here!  Asheren stretched a bony finger towards the door on his right.

Berrak with enthusiasm jumped to his feet and ran towards the door that Asheren had motioned at. The withered body from the other room was slowly dragging itself towards them. Asheren supported himself on his staff and turned an eye towards the blood soaked body crawling towards him. He recognised the man as the magic user from the ball that controlled the Sea-drake amulet within a staff. Interested briefly Asheren s mind snapped back to the task at hand.

Berrak began to fumble with the lock and was obviously making little progress fast.

Time is against us my friend, we must move quickly  Asheren stepped forward.

Cracking the butt of his staff on the ground and chanting words of magical tones, Asheren s staff began to glow with a bright fluorescent light. The empowered mage took his staff in both hands and etched an arch with the head of his staff on the door; a glowing blue line traced the shape of the portal.

Aramnar!  Yelled Asheren as a distorted gateway was summoned through the door and Asheren advanced through pulling Berrak with him. Asheren spun to see the man on the floor reach his hand out towards them.

“Beware! It’s trapped!” He murmured as Asheren sealed the portal behind him.

The Treasure Room

They looked around the treasure room.  It was a roughly circular room with two doors and a window.  The room was filled with riches, piles of gold and gems lay on the floor, spilling from chests.  Amulets from ancient civilisations were lined on shelves like trophies and even the furnishings were finished in gold leaf.  Asheren knew he would have to ensure that Berrak remained focused on what they had come for and didn’t become distracted by the opulence here.

Asheren was even stronger with the power from the Amulet in this room now and the bright glow was clear from within the wall.

The amulet is in the wall, Asheren shoved his staff towards the glow, and a beam of light from the staff highlighted the section of wall for Berrak to search.

It s not here!  Berrak exclaimed

I am telling you it is!  Asheren yelled,  Look again!

Asheren cloaked himself with his robes and reached his mind out towards the magician on the other side of the door. Asheren felt a bond between his mind and the outsider and his telepathic abilities began to flow between the two willing minds.

“How do we get the amulet? We need your help!  was Asheren s request.

The mental thoughts flowed back into the opening in Asheren s mind.  I do not . know. I have not entered that room

Berrak searched with an attention for detail as Asheren began to tune in with the magical components contained within this room, identifying some of them as having magical properties he began to load them into his backpack.

Asheren felt a pulse of energy flash come back from his telepathic connection  They are coming!

The doors began to shudder with the crash against them from the other side, before long the doors would give way and the Lugroki would be on them.

Moments later Berrak discovered, disarmed and removed the concealed chest from within the wall.

“I got it!  Berrak cried.

Good now lets get the hell out of here!

Ulrich, Lysar, Amos and the rest of the sailors reached the bottom of the stairs and Ulrich scatted his caltrops across the floor.  They shut the door to the dock and Amos jammed his poker into the hinge mechanism.  Amos began shouting to the rest of the sailors to get aboard, except for the two standing by the winch mechanism.

Ulrich began pulling across as much debris as possible in front of the door.  Coils of rope, packing cases and beams all stacked in front of the door.  “It won’t hold them for long, but it should give us a couple of extra minutes.”

Lysar and Ulrich hopped aboard, Lysar prepared her light spell and turned to face the door.

The ship began to lurch away from the dock and Ulrich began to feel they might make it.  Suddenly a cry from the prow warned him of more danger.  “Does it never end!?” he cried vainly and ran aft.  He could see that some of the Lugroki had come down the cliff path and were even now attempting to scale the inside cave walls to get to the boat.

Lysar heard a crash and saw the pile of boxes move.  Another crash and this time she thought she heard the poker snap loose.  Then they were out.

The ship was almost at the cave-mouth, the two sailors frantically winding the crank, pulling the ship further out.  With a wrench the ship came to the end of the chain and Amos ordered it released.  The Raven Princess was under her own power now.  Hundreds of Lugroki poured from the door onto the dock and Lysar let her light spell go.  The brightest sunlight filled the cave and many of the Lugroki seemed to scream in pain, halting some of them in their tracks.  This gave the two sailors all the chance they needed, backs to the rock they made a running leap for the deck of the ship.  The first landed lightly on the deck, while the second slammed into the side rail, one of his fellows dragging him aboard.  The Lugroki on the dock roared in frustration.

Lysar joined Ulrich up the front, firing at the Lugroki on the cave walls.  It was like fish in a barrel.  Some of them were less than ten feet away!  By now there were over a hundred Lugroki in the water with many more jumping from the dock.  The noise in the cave was incredible.  Lysar and Ulrich turned to the dock, both of them sensing that something else was wrong.  It was Ulrich that noticed it first.  The Lugroki in the water were being yanked under by an unseen force, sometimes five or six at a time.

“Oh by the black, hairy ass of the Lords of Hell!” muttered Ulrich.

“The Sea-Drake!” said Lysar, torn between fear and fascination.  “Amos!  Get us out of here!”

Amos was currently considering that very problem.  The tide was high and the waves crashed against the reef just outside the cave-mouth.  He grabbed the wheel, bellowed some orders and silently prayed to Shaal.

The ship’s hull scraped the reef, surfed down the back of a wave and with a mighty wrench Amos forced the rudder to turn.  As the sails were unfurled they immediately caught the breeze, whistling around the side of the tower.  The ship careened out of the cave mouth, down the back of a wave and around the base of the tower.  Ulrich and Lysar were still picking off Lugroki from the cliff walls as they passed within a few feet of them.

Lysar risked a glance behind.  Following them out came the sea-drake.  She saw its spines cut the water and its dark-green, scaly skin glistened as water cascaded off it.  It must be over sixty feet long!

Meanwhile, up in the tower, Asheren moved quickly towards the window, he smashed the butt of his staff through the membrane window and motioned for Berrak to step up to the sill, within moments the window began to repair and purple shades flowed through the walls of the room towards the window.

Again, Asheren focused his energies and etched an archway into the wall of the tower, chanting words foreign to Berrak. The gateway opened and with no hesitation Asheren launched himself through it.

“Juuuuuuuuummmmmmmppppppp Beraaaaaak!”

“The Serpent!!!” cried the crew.

The Dirve from the TowerUlrich wasn’t looking at the serpent racing alongside them, it’s huge spines cutting the waves, he was looking straight up at Asheren falling from the sky.  Down he hurtled and Ulrich dropped his weapons and charged across the deck.  But there was no need, in the last few feet Asheren floated to the deck of the ship a big grin on his face.  Then he seemed to remember something and looked up again.

Now Berrak was falling, and they could see his open mouth, but no words came out.  Asheren was incanting again but hesitantly.  Ulrich realised that Berrak was going to miss the ship altogether.

SPLASH!  Berrak hit the water within a few feet of the ship.  The wind whooshed out of his lungs as he went under.

For a moment he panicked.  Then he panicked again as he realised he had no idea which way was up.

Back on deck Lysar saw the sea-drake on the right hand side of the ship and saw Berrak go under on the left.  She quickly grabbed some rope and dived in after him, tossing the other end to Ulrich.  She suspected she had less than a minute before they were both drake-food.

Once again she had the strange feeling of breathing underwater and adjusted her eyes to the dim, underwater light.  She could see Berrak below her, swimming downwards.  He was clearly disorientated and she launched herself after him.  By far the stronger swimmer she soon had him and tugged twice on the rope, even as she saw the Sea-Drake brush the hull of the ship.

Ulrich felt the pulls on the rope and put his back into it.  The deck lurched beneath his feet and he heard some of the sailors cry out.  He kept on pulling until Lysar and Berrak popped out of the water and he hauled them onto the deck.

Then – chaos.  The front of the ship lifted out of the water and everyone fell backwards.  Keir wrapped his arm around a guy line.  As the ship crashed back into the waves with a protesting groan of punished timber, Berrak jumped to his feet, reaching inside his jacket.

“Keir.  The Amulet.  I got it!” he said as he passed the box to Keir.  “Use it against the drake!”

Prince Keir took the gem from it’s case, marvelling at the tiny sea-drake within it’s perfectly cut facets.  He smiled at the irony.  Here he was admiring a crystalline copy, when the real thing was even now charging toward them.

The party were all looking at him expectantly.  He cupped it in his hand, waiting for a surge of power.  Waiting for his birthright magic to well within him.  Suddenly he realised.

He had no idea what to do with it.

Asheren realised more quickly than the others that the Amulet wouldn’t save them.   He pleaded with the Prince to let him get it off the boat and to a place of safety.

The Sea-Drake attacked again, slamming into the side of the boat, then it launched itself up and out of the water in front of the boat, sending an enormous wave of water over the prow.

Amos shouted.  “Someone do something, or we are all dead!”

The Prince Commands the Sea-DrakeOne of the sailors cried out to Shaal.  Time seemed to slow.  The Sea-Drake’s enormous head rose out of the water less than a hundred feet from the ship, out to see enormous storm-clouds were scudding toward them.  The beast roared and began to charge.

Keir gripped the amulet in his hand.  To have come so far!  The amulet seemed to writhe in his hand.  He unclenched his fist to find the sea-drake in the crystal mirroring the actions of the real-life one.  Suddenly he knew what to do!

He ran the length of the ship, leaping prone sailors and lines as he did so and made it to the prow.  The drake was less than ten feet from the ship and he could smell it’s rank breath.

He thrust his arm out, the amulet winking in the sun and shouted “NO!”

The Sea-Drake sank beneath the waves.  The storm-clouds in the distance began to dissipate.

The crew picked themselves from the deck and stood aghast, never had they seen such powerful magic.  Amos cleared his throat as he strode down the steps to the main deck.

“Crew!  I’d like to introduce the heir to the throne of U-Lyshak – Prince Keir!”

Amos dropped to one knee in front of the Prince, who smiled remembering his not quite so deferential stance at the top of the stairs only an hour or so ago.  The other sailors rapidly followed suit.

Keir graciously asked everyone to stand, somewhat embarrassed, he thanked them all for the honour they do him.

“Before we go any further, I’d like to tell you something.  Out of all the lessons I received from my father, I think one has always stuck in my mind.  “Read the fine print!””  There was some nervous laughter and some of the tension from the last few hours faded from their faces.

“Before you sign up for this perilous journey, you should know that we will be facing some of the greatest dangers and powerful servants of the Unlife this world has ever known.”

There was some shuffling of feet and whispered exchanges amongst the crew.

Gonno, the first mate spoke up.  “Milord, how do we face these dangers?”

Keir considered the question.  He thumped his breastplate.  “With heart, man.”  He drew his sword, “and with steel.”

“My friends and I sail to Nomikos, to retrieve the Sea-Drake Sword from the Isle of Knowledge.  That is the next step in our journey.  The Sea-Drake realm has been seized by an evil power, this power encircles the people, tightening it’s grip almost daily.  You know the people we are dealing with and they absolutely will not stop until they have me in their grip too.  If that happens, and even if I return too late, I fear the dark stain will spread across the whole of Jaiman.  And let me tell you that the Unlife come not conquer, but to destroy.”

Keir sheathed his sword and swinging up on a tie-line, landed nimbly on a crate.

“My people are now ordered to fight each other and many of them have already lost their lives.  My own father was murdered by these people.  I will not stand by, paralysed by inaction while this so-called Priest destroys my, and your, heritage!  I am going to fight!

Now, who’s with me?!”

A mighty, affirmative roar goes up from the sailors, just as sunshine breaks the cloud, bathing the deck in the midday sun.

For Berrak, Asheren, Ulrich and Lysar though, it was a little different.  They had not been rescued, they did not have that feeling of liberation.  Sure, the recovery of the amulet had brought a little closure, but they all knew that there were far more dangers ahead.

Lysar was sitting on the deck up the front of the boat cradling Lionar in her arms, she did not have much to say.

The extreme to which he was tortured had shocked her to the core and she was trying to process what she thinks and feels and what she plans to do to help and avenge him.

She was also praying like she has never done before.

Asheren stood at the front of the boat. His eyes fixed on the horizon, his trance focused on the strength of the amulet.

“Tuathir, where are you my friend? If only you could see me now.” he thinks to himself.

His flaky skin is tormented by the sun, he mumbled a few quiet words and a light pleasant breeze blows over the boat and its crew.

“Ah that’s better…….”

“Get some rest people we have had a long two days, we must be well rested for the chance of the High Priest striking his vengeance upon us……”

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