Rolling right along with my story that I am sure is not nearly as good as I like to think it is here comes the fourth part!
Mathias stared at the former Paladins in front of him. Their black armor reeking of decay and a chill emanating from the very seams of their plate armor. Behind the visors of their helms was nothing but the stench of death and the hollowness of lost souls. He slowly slid his curved sword out of its scabbard noticing that Garrett did as well, he also noticed his armor had not changed. Behind him he heard a bow string tightening assuming it was one of the sisters or Aiden.
Vathar chuckled hollowly, “How very interesting how life tries to hold on in its final hour.” He turned on his heel and walked towards the exit, he turned to one of his men, “Finish them.” He took a final look at Alistra, “All of them.” With that he strode out of the Cathedral.
The former Paladins fanned out across the hall facing the ones in front of them with icy stares. Then all at once the Paladins charged the group and that was where they all learned these men were now inhumanely strong. All Mathias could do was be pushed backwards as he tried to withstand the onslaught of two of the paladins at once. While parrying and dodging blows he saw Aiden doing hit and run tactics on one other paladin, Garrett held his own against another, and the last paladin had cleaved his way through two more of the sisters before locking blades with their captain.
Mathias was stuck in a rotation of parrying one of the Paladin’s blade before having to dodge the others strike swiftly afterwards. He had no chance to land an attack through their continued onslaught even as he attempted to use the pillars and benches in the hall to escape his attackers. Finally he received a small reprieve when one of the Paladins misjudged their timing striking too late and too low which when Mathias parried the blow sent the sword past its intended target and into its ally. Both of the Paladins cursed as one started bleeding profusely from his leg and the other whipped back around to the now fleeing Mathias.
“Kur ne Ven!” Sacae’s voice pierced the room followed by a crackling sound as three medium sized fireballs whizzing across the room. One hit one of the Paladins square in the chest his hollow scream echoing as he was set ablaze. The other two while missing their targets landed close enough to them and with enough force to knock the wind out of them and throw them a few feet away.
“Over here!” Mathias called out, “We are running out of here!”
Liara carried the half limping captain of the sisters into the hallway adjoining the main hall even as she struggled to get free.
“Let me go Lady Liara!” she protested, “I will not back down here!”
One of the five remaining sisters came up to the captain and suddenly slapped her, “Lady Catherine. Forgive me but you are most suited to protect her Most Holy.” The sister turned to Liara, “Lady Liara I must request you take flight with Lady Catherine, we will try to hold back the remaining four Paladins for as long as we can.”
“Make that three.” Garrett said somberly as he strode up to where the group was gathering pointing back to a disheveled heap of armor.
The sister nodded before barking out quick orders to the remaining sisters as they charged the remaining three Paladins. Catherine had tears in her eyes as she grimaced and turned limping into the hallway. From there they all ran to the end of the hall to Alistra’s rooms where they took a moment to catch their breath.
“No offense but should we be resting right now?” Aiden questioned through ragged breaths.
Alistra had kneeled before Catherine her hands covered in a warm glow, “Behind the wardrobe. There is a passage there. Not even my brother knows of it so I doubt his Paladins would.” She said quietly her attention kept on the wound on Catherine’s leg as it slowly closed up and the blood stopped flowing.
Mathias, Garrett, and Liara were busy piling as much furniture as they could in front of the door to make an impromptu barricade. Sacae was busy drinking from a blue vial as she paced in a small circle near the center of the room. Aiden meanwhile unceremoniously dumped the clothing in the wardrobe out to reveal a hidden door behind them. Opening the creaking door revealed a dark cobweb infested tunnel.
“Looks like a nice home for spiders…” Aiden clicked his tongue, “Never liked spiders…”
Mathias came over to peer down the tunnel, “We’ll be fine. It’s better the spiders than those Paladins.”
“What happened to them Mathias?” Liara’s voiced quietly asked from behind him.
Turning Mathias saw the concerned questioning look not just in Liara’s eyes but Alistra’s and Catherine’s as well. He scratched the back of his head trying to think of a good answer.
“Honestly?” Mathias finally started to reply, “I have no real idea. It isn’t the first time in history that some organization or group turned into a cult or vied for more power. But this all seems to be on a different level all together.”
Alistra’s hands stopped glowing as she stood silently above Catherine who was now flexing her leg back and forth. She turned to Mathias questions clearly burning in her eyes, “Do… do you think there is any hope for them?”
Mathias stared intently back at Alistra before shaking his head slowly, “I am not sure about that either Alistra. But what I saw back there… seemed something completely above the level of say a normal possession. I won’t say don’t have hope… but I wouldn’t rely on it right now.”
With that Mathias turned with a grim look on his face to the dark passage and without another word plunged himself into the darkness. Alistra’s head hung low before she heard the footsteps of metal boots walking down the corridor outside. A light hand touched her shoulder and she looked to see Catherine nod her head. Alistra put on a small smile before she puffed up her chest and plunged behind Mathias into the corridor. Behind her the rest of Mathias’ group followed them with Aiden making some choice comments about the choice of their path.
In the passageway after they had shut the door behind them they had been plunged into complete darkness. The path itself was narrow where they could just fit in going single file but for them they were glad it was a simple straight path with no twists or turns. They chose not to use any source of light just in case the Paladins found the entrance. So they quietly trooped on noticing each of their steps seemed intensified and louder in the narrow passageway.
They had walked for nearly for fifteen minutes, enough that they were all used to the dark now, when they could make out the minute thudding some ways behind them of the sounds of someone bashing through their impromptu barricade into Alistra’s rooms. Alistra’s eyes went wide, not that anyone could really tell in the darkness, and she gasped. Catherine stifled a low growl from her throat, she was clearly angry.
“It seems our diversion is over. Let’s pick up the pace. Carefully though.” Mathias quietly ordered looking behind him, “Wait… where is Aiden?”
“Right here.” Aiden said as he walked quickly up to the group, “Left a surprise for them if they find this passage.”
Mathias didn’t question the elf instead choosing to just shrug before walking quickly down the passage with the others behind him. It was only a few minutes later that they heard the dull echoing sounds of chopping behind them.
“Sounds like they found the passage quickly.” Liara mused.
Aiden nervously chuckled, “We may want to run quicker.”
“No reason to trip over ourselves here. Keep going how we are.” Mathias replied though his pace quickened some.
After a minute or two they heard a crash followed by a small explosion, looking back down the passage Mathias could just make out a fire that lit the other end of the passage. He could just make out one Paladin in the fire flailing uselessly about as he was set ablaze. Another Paladin stood guarding his face from the flames as he backed out of the passage. Turning to Aiden Mathias nodded.
“The end of the passage is just ahead.” Catherine called out.
Turning his attention back to the front Mathias saw moonlight peeking through what looked like vines a few yard ahead of them. Rushing quickly to the exit Mathias noticed not just vines but the steel gate blocking the exit. Peering through them he noticed a silent cobbled street but in the distance he could hear the sounds of alarms and fighting. He turned to the others, specifically Catherine, with a questioning look.
“So we are still in the city?” Mathias asked quietly.
Catherine nodded, pulling a silver key from a pouch, “The duke only allowed it to be built if it didn’t lead out of the city proper.”
“Understandable I suppose,” Mathias said shrugging lightly, “Don’t want a way for an enemy to sneak in… given there are plenty of other ways.”
The key made a small click in the gate and creaked from years of not being used as they all filed out of the passageway. Garrett rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck complaining of how cramped it was. Liara was looking around seeming to take in where they were.
“Is this the market district?” she asked quietly.
Catherine nodded, “Just on the edge of it.”
Any further conversation was ended as an explosion shook the area spinning around Mathias noticed a large plume of smoke rising in the night sky in the direction of where the cathedral was. Alistra seemed to have noticed it as well as she cried in frustration and nearly collapsed. Running to her side Catherine propped her up with tears of anguish in her eyes.
“Milady now is not the time for this!” Catherine snapped, “We need to get out of here!”
As if on cue a group of soldiers marched around a corner and once noticing the group drew their weapons.
“Captain! That one wears Paladin armor!” one of the soldiers yelled.
“Surround them!” a familiar voice rang out.
Within seconds they were surrounded by the soldiers with pikes and swords pointed towards them as the Captain strode to the center. It was the very same Captain who assisted in the rescue from the bandits.
“Lady Liara?!” the Captain stared incredulously at the group for a few seconds before remembering something, “Lower your weapons! Now!”
Hesitantly the soldiers lowered their weapons and then received orders to looks for any civilians. Fanning out they did a house by house search as the Captain returned his attention to the group.
“Lady Liara. I am glad to see you safe.” He peered through the group scowling slightly at the sight of Mathias, Sacae, and Aiden but his eyes went wide and nearly popped out of his head when they landed on Alistra, “Most Holy?!”
Alistra politely nodded before Liara grabbed his attention, “Captain, can you give me a report of any kind?”
The Captain nodded slowly seeming to be shocked still at the sight of Alistra, “Y…Yes of course.” He cleared his throat.
“Shortly before sundown we started receiving odd reports of the Paladins attacking civilians and soldiers. When investigated it seemed like the entire order had gone mad and was attacking anyone without thought. We were able to push them out of most of the districts and suffered only initial shocked losses. Civilians have been evacuated outside of the city for now and the last report I had received myself was that we had pushed the Paladins into the Cathedral district. They current occupy that district but since there is only one entrance and exit it wasn’t hard to set up a defense.
It currently seems to be a stalemate though as we are not able to push further but they seem unwilling to leave. They seem to be using… psychological attacks though on our troops. You know how religious we are ma’am and well that damn monster Vathar has been yelling from the walls that he has killed the Most Holy. It certainly has done a number on the morale if I reports are too believed. We are currently in this district under direct order to make sure no Paladin stragglers or civilians are around.”
Liara grimaced from the report. While not as bad as she probably expected she clearly had hoped what had happened to us was a simple one time incident. She turned to Mathias, “We should head to Darian.”
Mathias nodded scratching his chin before turning to Alistra. “Alistra, you should leave the city, join the civilians outside.” Mathias said quietly, “Sacae, Aiden, Garrett, there is no real reason you have to stay around anymore either.”
The group looked at Mathias with shocked looks. It isn’t that he is wrong, in fact it is more because he is right about the situation that they were shocked. Alistra was a beacon of hope among the people so she should be safe. The others simply were caught up in a in the wrong place at the wrong time situation. Sacae whipped her head to look at Liara but she simply stared to the ground, clearly she didn’t want to admit it but she felt Mathias was right as well. That was when it clicked for Sacae that Mathias wasn’t saying they were unwelcome but he was in fact just trying to protect people he had grown close to.
The Captain stepped forward, “Most Holy, though I am sickened even agreeing with him I must say that the half breed is right. You should leave the city seek protection among the soldiers and masses outside of the city still.”
Liara whipped her head up a venomous stare pointed to the Captain who simply stood there and leveled a steady gaze at Liara.
“No.” Alistra’s stern voice echoed across the street, “I will not hide while others die in my name. I will be there when we find out what my brother has done and I will be the one to hand out judgement upon him.”
The Captain again stepped forward a pleading look on his face, “Most Holy! I must object to this!”
But then Mathias stepped forward putting a light hand on the Captain’s shoulder. He stared at Alistra as a light grin broke across his face, “Hmm… you have always been one stubborn kid.”
Alistra returned Mathias’ grin, “If I wasn’t you know you wouldn’t be here.”
Mathias chuckled before turning to the rest of the group he called out to a moment ago, “And? I suppose you three will be just as stubborn?”
Aiden shrugged before walking past Mathias, “I have a reward to collect after all.”
Garrett nodded sternly, anyone who looked at him knew he was after answers about the Paladins as well. Meanwhile Sacae also joined the group silently refusing to meet the eyes of the others.
Shrugging Mathias turned to the Captain, “Well Captain looks like these stubborn ones have set their feet down. Perhaps we should all just head to Darian now.”
The Captain sighed, “I wish I could change their minds…” sighing again the Captain whipped around yelling out orders to his soldiers.
The soldiers filed up around the group as they marched down the street towards the rising sounds of yelling, fighting, and fires from the bridge that led to the Cathedral district.
As the group along with the soldiers neared the Cathedral district the city turned itself from its vibrant cityscape into a battlefield. Bodies littered the sides of the streets where they had been dragged in order to allow passage. Barricades and soldiers started showing up moments later as the party neared the square that was before the bridge. As they entered the square they saw a temporary headquarters had been set up and soldiers and officers buzzed about. At the other end of the square leading to the bridge to the Cathedral district barricades and soldiers swarmed the area and pockets of fighting could just be made out.
They were all led to the large tent that was being used as the headquarters and once seen inside the soldiers except for the Captain left. The Captain led them into the tent and in the center standing above a map of the city sprawled out onto a table that was surrounded by a group of men Darian pointed here and there on the map arguing with the other men.
“I’m telling you Devan that charging across that bridge right now would be suicide.” Darian said exasperated not noticing the group enter the tent.
“Milord, excuse my pertinence but we must wipe out these traitors now. The sooner the better.” One of the men replied sternly.
“I am in agreement with Lord Devan in this matter.” Another one of the men replied his reply followed with nods of agreement from the other men.
Darian sighed he looked at the map before slamming his fist into the table, “I feel like if we go over there we are just off to kill ourselves.”
“Now Darian what did the table ever do you?” Mathias injected the light jab to the Grand Duke.
All the heads around the table whipped to the group who had entered as Liara shook her head at Mathias.
“Mathias?” Darian questioned before his eyes landed on Alistra, “A…Alistra?!”
The men surrounding the table seemed just as shocked as Darian seeing Alistra, a couple tearing up, a few others yelling out orders to nearby soldiers outside of the tent to spread the word that she was alive. Within minutes it seemed the entire area was abuzz about how she had survived the Paladins. Back in the tent Darian ran his fingers through his short beard.
“Ah sorry Lady Alistra, I know you don’t always like the spotlight,” Darian was saying apologetically, “But the morale went down pretty far when the Paladins had said they had killed you. Then that fire at the Cathedral seemed to just hammer that fact in.”
“It is alright Darian.” Alistra said with a slightly strained smile on her face, “If it helps I suppose there isn’t much to be done about it.”
Mathias walked up to Darian with a concerned look on his face, “Darian. Those bodies littering the streets. I highly recommend burning the bodies. Now.”
Darian whipped his face to look at Mathias, “What in the world are you saying Mathias?!”
“I am saying you should burn those bodies. When we investigated this we were attacked by Paladins commanding undead.” Mathias sternly looked at Darian.
Darian paled, “Undead…”
He seemed to pale further thinking of it before ordering a couple of the men in the tent to get it done. They saluted before leaving the tent barking out orders to soldiers outside of the tent as Darian sunk into a nearby chair. Rubbing his temples he turned to Mathias.
“Mathias… do you have any idea what this all is?” he said solemnly.
“Sadly already answered that question and it hasn’t changed since earlier. No I have no idea what this is.” Mathias quietly said as he scratched the back of his head, “This level of corruption though… it’s on the level of something only a very powerful wizard or… God could do.”
Darian sat up a little in his chair, “You seem hesitant to say god here Mathias.”
Mathias looked Darian in the eyes seeming not to want to continue the conversation but Darian didn’t back down and so Mathias just sighed, “Not long ago I was in Kathos. I got caught up in what seemed like some tension between Tarn’s people and the Frostfang Orcs. Ended up being some prophecy thing from the Seer of the Frostfang’s and well we ended up fighting a Dragon.”
“A Dragon?!” Sacae’s voice interrupted though a moment later she blushed brightly, “I… I’m sorry. But I thought Dragons were extinct.”
“Is the council even keeping that a secret?” Mathias seemed more shocked at that realization, “The Draconis race is hardly extinct anymore. But only three are known by anyone anymore.”
Sacae seemed enraptured at the thought of it but Mathias turned back to Darian.
“Anyway after we fought that Dragon I had… someone… tell me that it seemed like it was driven mad.” Mathias shrugged out the end of his short tale.
Darian’s eyes were vibrant as he looked at Mathias, “You are hiding things from me Mathias. But more on that later. What you are implying though is there is something out there that could be the driving force of this madness of that Dragon and whatever is going on here. Isn’t that all a bit… coincidental?”
“I don’t often believe in coincidences Darian.” Mathias retorted quickly.
Chuckling lightly Darian stood from his chair to walk back over to the map examining it. Mathias and Liara joined them as Sacae, Aiden, and Garrett were told to rest up if they wished. Sacae was busy writing hastily in a notebook while Aiden rested in an out of the way corner of the tent. Garrett quietly sharpened his sword outside of the tent as the group prepared for their next course of action.
Shortly after though calls of alarms started ringing from the bridge and sounds of fighting intensified. Darian and the rest of the group came charging out of the tent just as a soldier ran up to them.
“What in the world is going on soldier?!” Darian commanded.
Gasping for breath the soldier wheezed out his reply, “The… Paladins… are charging… milord.”
Darian’s eyes went wide and then quickly went as cold as steel as he barked out orders to soldiers who were waiting about nearby. Shortly they were all marching towards the bridge that led to the Cathedral district. When they arrived they noticed the soldiers surrounding a large group of former Paladins who had firmly planted themselves in the square as more of the Paladins slowly marched across the bridge.
Mathias clicked his tongue as they all moved up further to the front lines of the fighting. One Paladin pushed his way towards Darian but was met head on by Garrett who deftly parried the attack of the Paladin just as nearby soldiers pierced him multiple times with their spears. But this did not stop the Paladin who continued his onslaught against his new opponent. Garrett though met the attacks with calm intensity until he gained the upper hand and quickly removed his opponents head.
“These ones are madder than the ones from before.” Garrett noted quietly.
Mathias nodded as they continued to push their way forward continuing to take down more Paladins as they attacked with reckless abandon. They finally made it where the largest concentration of Paladins were and undoubtedly at the head of the column of Paladins was their leader Vathar. Vathar noticed the group and grinned wickedly after cutting down two nearby soldiers as if cutting through butter.
“Ah. My Lord Darian,” Vathar bowed mockingly, “So kind of you to come to me in order to die.”
Darian did not reply but instead just stared at the black armored Paladin as he drew his sword and strapped on his shield. Vathar grin broke and he cackled like a madman.
“Yes!” Vathar roared, “Let’s settle this by the sword!”
“Vathar!” a piercing voice rang out from behind Darian as Alistra stepped out into view. Murmuring among the soldiers began spreading like wildfire about how the Most Holy was still alive. Vathar’s eyes glared with unfathomable hate glowing with a new fervor.
“I see my men failed their duty.” Vathar answered dryly, “I will need to finish what they failed it seems.”
“Why are you doing this?!” Alistra asked ignoring the threat, “What drove you so mad?!”
Vathar’s eyes blazed, “Me?! MAD?! No. Alistra I am not the mad one here!”
But choosing not to continue the conversation Vathar charged at Alistra instead. Alistra was pushed back by Darian just as he raised his shield to block the attack. At once the scene caused a great roar to erupt from the soldiers as they charged with full force against the column of Paladins. What followed could only be considered madness as the fighting erupted and everyone was pushed a part from each other as the Paladins pushed back against the onslaught.
The fighting broke from the square and it seemed like in no time at all that pockets of fighting started taking place all over the city. Though the Paladins were vastly outnumbered their superior strength at the moment from whatever controlled them made them fight equally against the soldiers numbers. But superior strength only got them so far as the pockets of fighting started dwindling quickly.
On one street a group of soldiers were fighting a group of Paladins barely holding their attacks back as two arrows whizzed across the street and pierced through the visors of two of the Paladins causing them to howl in pain and giving the soldiers the opportunity to pierce through their tough armor skewering them with their spears. The remaining Paladins faltered which was another mistake as a large sword cleaved through one of the Paladins and the remaining two whipped around to the new attacked to be met with Garrett who pushed the Paladins back.
The soldiers assisted Garrett as they eventually felled the last Paladins they were fighting and Aiden joined them his bow spinning lightly in his hands. He nodded to Garrett who nodded back and they made their way back towards the square. In the square the fighting was more intense as a large force of soldiers rushed across the bridge leading to the Cathedral district and the remaining soldiers held off the Paladins from being able to retreat.
“It looks like the Grand Duke’s soldiers are wresting control. Look.” Aiden pointed to the other side of the square where soldiers currently not fighting were blocking off the streets leaving the square.
Garrett nodded quietly before searching the square looking for something. But he wasn’t able to look long as three Paladins rushed the pair. One of the Paladins locked swords with Garrett as the other two cleaved the air and bashed the cobbled stones of the street attempting to hit Aiden as he darted in and out between the two slashing their weak points. Aiden eventually brought one of the Paladins down after he was able to pierce through the links in the Paladin’s armor behind his leg, slashing through the tendon and darting off out of reach if that one had any ideas as he focused on the last Paladin.
While Aiden was strong the inhumane strength from his opponent nearly brought him to knees as he parried and blocked attacks in between his darting around to slice and pierce through the weak points in his armor. Eventually an opportunity came that Aiden did not pass up as he deftly struck and pierced through the Paladins knee and whipped back up to slash through his forearm. The Paladin fell to his knees where Aiden placed his blade next to the Paladins neck.
“Too bad.” Aiden said quietly as he whipped his blade around and sliced through the Paladin’s neck removing his head.
Aiden spat on the ground saying some curse in Elvish as he moved away from the convulsing body sprouting a fountain of blood. Then a piercing cry broke across the square, “AIDEN!! WATCH OUT!”
He was about to roll out of the way but it was too late. He felt the burning hot sensations as a blade slashed through his skin, muscle, and even bone as it crossed across his back and just as quickly as it had struck his back it whipped upwards with inhumane speed and strength to quickly tear through his arm instantly removing it. The pain was intense but he could not scream. He also noticed he had not moved though the force of the attack should have sent him flying. He noticed then the slight feeling through the intense searing pain of his head being held in place.
Entering his vision from behind him he saw a black metal gauntlet holding his hair and at the other end of the black metal gauntlet was Vathar his eyes cold and glowing with intense hatred. Wordlessly Vathar grabbed Aiden by the throat cutting off all airflow to his lungs. Aiden uselessly bashed against the metal arm that held him with his last amount of strength he could muster as he was lifted high into the air by the black armored man.
Aiden could just make out with his fading vision Garrett fighting some yards away, struggling against the two Paladins from earlier yelling out towards him and off in the distance he could hazily make out Sacae and Liara. He looked back to Vathar whose face was still as hard as stone as his eyes glowed. Aiden cracked a weak grin at Vathar who sneered back at him before lifting his blade and piercing through Aiden’s chest. Blood flowed freely from the wound and Aiden coughed up blood as his life slipped away.
Vathar released Aiden allowing the elf to collapse on the road. Aiden coughed up more blood as he lay there on the stones. His one hand reaching up from his chest to the sky.