As promised last weekend here is the full story I have thrown out over the last few blog posts all in one nice giant post for those who want to read it in one go.
Thank you for anyone who read through the parts and/or this post and I hope you enjoyed reading it.
The horse plodded along the well-trodden road on a particularly normal sunny day. Its rider was in a half dozing state as they traveled, only seeming to wake long enough to make sure the horse was still on the road before returning to that half doze. The horse didn’t mind, it had many riders before the current one. Some would whip his sides into a frenzy trying to reach their destination in some sort of haste that made no sense to it. While others would simply use him to pull some wooden wheeled carriages or as a pack horse, which he personally detested being used as. So the horse did not complain, especially since this rider was particularly light.
The horse and rider continued like this for many days pulling off to the side of the road at night or finding a small copse of trees if the weather was bad. On another one of those particularly normal sunny days though the horse caught a whiff of a peculiar scent on the wind. He flicked his ears, shook his head, and whinnied getting his riders attention. The horse didn’t wish to continue, he did not understand that smell but his instincts told him not to go near it. But the rider who had barely controlled him before now forced him in the direction of the smell.
The horse whinnied again when they rounded the hill and saw before them what caused the smell. Its rider whistled at the sight. Before them a ransacked wagon train was in the final stages of burning itself out and around the wagons were corpses of various races. Some were also burned while others lay unceremoniously where they had fallen but even more disgusting even to the horse were the ones who were tied up to quickly built posts as if they were some sort of warning to leave. Wanting to leave the horse whinnied again but then picked up a new smell from the mass in front of it.
The horse pranced about skittishly, flicking its ears and bobbing its head. Its rider tried calming it but it was too late as the new smell was upon them. A large club came crashing into the back of its rider’s skull. Its rider slid unconscious from the saddle and that was the last straw for the horse as it ran as fast its hooves could take it away from the scene. Its hooves crashing on mud, leaves, wood, and bodies alike as it left protecting its very life.
Mathias groaned, the back of his head felt swollen and he had a splitting headache to boot. He blinked allowing his sight to return slowly through the throbbing that was blotting out his senses currently. As his sight gradually returned so did his other senses as such he started taking in a lot of information all at once that did no favors to the headache he was dealing with right now. Besides the splitting headache he also noticed his hands were tied behind his back and his feet were bound together in front of him. Where ever he was it was dark, though thanks to his elven eyesight he didn’t have too much trouble making things out in the gloom.
He was currently propped up against a corner so he was able to make out mostly everything in the room he was held in. There were three others in the room a half elf like himself, an elf, and a human. The elf was currently in the trance like state elves used when “sleeping” while the half elf seemed to be trembling slightly not far from the elf. The human was staring intently at the single door that the room had. None had apparently noticed Mathias waking up yet though which he was slightly thankful for at the moment.
Finally through his throbbing headache he was able to start pinpointing sounds. A flap of wings outside the barred window, the cheers of at least three men somewhere outside the door, the skittering of multiple rats followed by the cursing of a drunk fourth man, a conversation between a fifth and sixth man interrupted only by the steady intervals of someone sharpening a blade. Mathias let out a small sigh, it appeared they were just common bandits, which made him sigh even louder. He was getting rusty if a group of bandits got the better of him.
His sighing though caught the attention of the others in the room. While the human did not stop staring intently at the door he was the first to speak.
“So it looks like the fourth one brought here is alive still,” he said in a matter of fact tone.
The female half elf sighed in relief, “That’s good. When they brought you in you were clearly in a rougher condition than any of us were.”
Mathias did not immediately respond but finally replied, “Any idea who is behind holding us here?”
This time the elf replied, “Seems to be common cutthroats. As to why they are holding us though is beyond me.”
Mathias chose not to continue the conversation and none of the others seemed intent on doing so either. Though occasionally to break the silence one of them, usually the half elf woman, would try striking up some random conversation. Through this he learned the others names and not much else, the female half elf was Sacae Talman, the elf called himself Aiden Raine, and the human was Garrett Dalaran. They continued like this for nearly a week and he met only one of their captors, apparently one who lost a bet and was forced to feed the prisoners. Luckily for Mathias though the bandits apparently didn’t search him thoroughly as through some excruciating effort he was able to finally pull his dagger out of his right boot one day after the bandit had left after feeding them. Quietly Mathias finally cut through the ropes that bound him, but then pretended to still be bound and he waited.
The following day like clockwork the bandit showed up to feed them, grumbling curses the whole time. Suddenly a horn broke the semi silence the room had and calls of alarms could be heard outside of the room from the other bandits.
“The hell is going on out the…” the bandit feeding them began saying but he was cut off as he felt something pierce his skin at his neck.
The bandit saw Mathias stand up next to him and his arms, which were supposed to be bound, were in a half defensive half offensive stance one hand wielding a small curved dagger. He brought his hand to his neck and pulled it away sticky and dyed red with his blood, he then coughed once spilling out more blood before his body collapsed and let out a gurgling sigh as he died.
Sacae’s eyes went wide and she clamped her mouth shut to stifle any sound she may have made meanwhile Aiden’s and Garret’s simply stared at what happened. Mathias began to go from person to person cutting their ropes. Garret stood rubbing his wrists as Aiden went to their recent captor and started searching through his pockets and pocketing things here and there. Sacae stood quietly in a corner seeming to collect her thoughts. After he got them all out of their binds Mathias went to the door and quietly looked into the hallway.
They were in the last room at the end of the hall a couple of torches hung in their rings on the walls that lit the dirty hallway. The hallway was empty and Mathias could just make out the sounds of yelling and fighting outside. He turned back into the room to the others before speaking up.
“Sorry for keeping that a secret from you all, thought it would be better if you all didn’t tense up when he showed up.” Mathias said dryly explaining what just happened.
Garrett shrugged, “Think nothing of it.”
Mathias grinned lightly, “The hall is empty so we can get out of here now. I suggest though you all might want to stick with me for now.”
Aiden shot an eyebrow up but said nothing more. Sacae joined them seeming to have collected her thoughts now and nodded.
The group left quietly down the hall before they reached a small common room where the bandits probably drank themselves to sleep each night. In this room they found their various belongings among other useful things they decided to take with them. Exiting the building they were held in they came out to a courtyard of a ruined keep where they came across the bodies of ragged men who could only have been their captors. The next thing they noticed was the fact that spears and polearms were now pointed at their throats by armored soldiers.
Mathias heard Aiden swear behind him and saw Garrett reaching for the greatsword he brought with him out of the building. Mathias was about to tell them both to calm down but then a horn split the air twice and a voice yelled out.
“Lower your weapons you dolts!” a sharp commanding voice pierced the air after the horn.
Riding up on a powerfully built white stallion a female in black leather armor came up to the surrounded group, most of the polearms still pointed to the group.
“Did I stutter you idiots? I said lower your weapons!” the human stared icily at the soldiers.
Quickly the soldiers took a step back and lowered the weapons with confused looks. The human on the horse sighed before looking at Mathias.
“I swear to Alddar you get in the weirdest circumstances Mathias.” She groaned.
Mathias grinned, “But Liara my dear. Don’t you just love saving me?”
Liara looked down from her horse exasperated, “No Mathias. Last time I checked you were not a damsel.” She continued looking at Mathias annoyed but finally chuckled lightly.
Finally Liara looked over the other three who were next to Mathias, “Let’s see here… I suppose they were being held here as well…”
Liara seemed she was going to continue but at that moment another rider rode up next to her, “Lady Liara, the two cowards who ran into the woods have been taken care of. We can return home now.” He said briskly.
“Ah, thank you captain. Get the troops moving I will join you shortly.” Liara said nodding her head.
“Milady I must insist you join us now. Grand Duke Trathane would have my head if anything were to happen to you.” The captain glared towards Mathias and the others.
“Captain. I know of your distrust of other races, but if you so much as glare at Mathias again I will take your head off before my cousin had the chance.” Liara’s stare was icy and her voice dripped acid at the suggestion.
The captain’s eyes went wide for a moment before they steeled up and he saluted Liara and he barked out orders to the soldiers. Liara watched him leave with the soldiers before she relaxed.
“I am sorry about that Mathias.” Liara said solemnly.
“Don’t worry Liara,” Mathais said with a forced chuckle, “You know I am used to it. Many humans don’t trust other races and half breeds are some of the worst hated upon.”
Liara turned to the group with a half grin planted on her face as she looked over the group.
“So let us see here…” she tussled her hair lightly, “Any chance I could get some introductions here?”
Sacae bowed lightly first, “I am sorry for my delay Lady Liara, I am Sacae Talman from the Wizard Council.”
Liara waved her hand, “Please. Just Liara. I am far from any lady. ”It is good to hear from you now though, you were due a week ago.”
Aiden bowed with extravagated elegance next, “Aiden Raine, bounty hunter, I decided to take in some of the sights on my way. The inside of this decrepit building was most excellent I assure you.”
Liara raised an eyebrow with a slight grin on her face, “Oh I am sure.” Finally she turned to Garrett, “Going by your armor… a Paladin?”
Garrett bowed lightly, “Forgive me but I am no Paladin. Though my father was and I inherited his armour.”
“Hmm…” Liara seemed content with the answer though, “Well then I extend my welcomes to all of you and would be happy to extend a place to stay in Val Ald if you all would like to take it.”
After their introductions they all quickly caught up to the column of soldiers and travelled over the next few days to the capital of Alddar, Val Ald. Upon entering the city the soldiers went one direction while Liara, Mathias, and the others headed another. The city was a bright city with white marble and stone making up most of its buildings. Pennants of many colors flew from buildings while gardens and flowers were commonly seen at every home. Colorful signs swayed in the light breeze out over the streets indicating various shops.
“I never get tired of seeing all this color.” Mathias mused to no one in particular.
“You spend too much time in the north Mathias. You get used to all that stone-faced blandness of Malorians or that barbaric look of the Kathorians.” Liara sarcastically replied.
Mathias shrugged, “It is good to see the world though Liara.”
Liara smirked but chose not to reply.
On their way down one particular street next to a large open square a file of fully armed men in white and gold steel marched across a bridge and blocked their path. Each of the men’s faces were hidden by their helmets and their freshly polished armor seemed to not only shine the sun’s rays but even take them in making them seem to glow themselves. One of the men stepped forward, unlike his allies he wore no helm his golden hair framed his face and cascaded across his shoulders.
“You. The knave who brazenly wears our armor tainting it to the very core. Who are you?” the man said, his tone authoritve and powerful.
Mathias saw Garrett tense up as he stared at the man refusing to answer.
“I believe I asked you a question you insolent brat.” The man’s eyes hardened.
“Alright Lord Vathar that is quite enough. To what do we owe the pleasure?” Liara said a tinge of annoyance in her voice.
Vathar looked coldly towards Liara, “I do not believe I addressed the brat of the court.”
Liara’s face went livid and it was clear she was about to pour out a good amount of verbal obscenities at Vathar when a horn split the tense air. Suddenly both groups were surrounded by soldiers with brightly polished breastplates. Striding in between the two groups riding atop a white stallion a man in a light blue doublet with a red cloak on his shoulders looked at both groups, the golden crown on his head slipped slightly as he finished.
“Cousin. Vathar. Why do you argue on my streets.” The man said matter of factly but underneath that was a tone of pure authority. No one could possibly argue against that voice.
Vathar and his assembled Paladins got onto one knee, as well as Garrett, “Grand Duke, you honor us with your presence.” Vathar stated, an acid look seething out of his eyes as he noticed Garrett also kneeling.
“Oh please Vathar. I know you care for me about as much as you care for other races that are not human. Get off your knees.” Darian scoffed lightly as he got off his horse.
Vathar and his men got off their knees but he noticed Garrett was still on his. Vathar spat, “Nothing, milord. Something that I am sure will resolve itself later.”
Without even waiting for a reply Vathar whipped around and left back across the bridge with his followers. Darian sighed as he watched the Paladins march off before he turned to Liara’s group and that is when he noticed Garrett.
“Rise good man. There is no need to bow to me.” Darian said.
“That is wrong milord, my parents told me all about you. I know there is all the reason to show respect.” Garrett said.
Darian scratched his short beard, “Well rise anyway. You’ll scratch that armor if you keep kneeling on the stones.”
Garrett slowly rose but stood at attention in front of Darian. Darian raised an eyebrow towards Liara who simply shrugged.
Darian returned the shrug before turning to Mathias with arms open, “Old friend. It is good to see you again.” He went in for an embrace before Mathias could even reply and glanced at Liara who was seeming to grow livid again and he backed off after a few moments with a grin on his face.
“Now then! No need for us to remain here. I must insist you all come to the palace with me.” Darian stated giving no room for argument, “I am having a feast and you all are invited!”
With a quick command the group was surrounded by Darian’s guards and were paraded through the city straight to the palace before they could even think to argue. At the palace they were all separated by attendants and were forced to bathe, clean their hair, and dress in rich doublets and hose or dresses. When they all met again before entering the throne room they all seemed like completely different people. Mathias fiddled with his rich black doublet before Liara stepped up in her flowing dark blue dress and slapped his wrist.
“Stop fiddling with it Mathias.” Liara said icily fixing his doublet.
“Both you and your cousin know I hate these rich things,” Mathias replied practically pouting, “Can’t see why I couldn’t have just worn my normal clothes after all.”
“Because the pompous ass likes his ceremonies and everything else really to be flashy is why.” Liara shrugged.
Mathias looked at the others as they joined them. Aiden seemed to be taking to the whole thing worse than he was groaning and complaining at the evergreen doublet he was wearing. Garrett seemed fine wearing his red doublet though he seemed to miss his sword and armor more than the rest of the group. Meanwhile Sacae’s red hair no longer framed her face but was brought up as a side ponytail that cascaded over one shoulder. Her red dress hugged her frame tightly extenuating her curves and on her left hand a ruby ring adorned her white fingers. Shortly after they had gathered a short and stocky man that could almost be confused as a dwarf stepped out of an alcove next to the wide doors that led into the throne room.
“Lady Liara. Are you and your guests… ready?” The man gave a quizzical look over the group with his statement.
“Open up the doors Bertram.” Liara gave a leveled stare to the short man.
Bertram sighed, “I suppose they will do.”
He turned and clapped his hands twice. The doors into the throne room opened slowly by the guards on the other side. In the throne room various nobles who were mingling before the feast stopped their conversations and turned their heads towards the new arrivals. Bertram stepped forward and was about to speak when Liara put her hand in front of his mouth.
“Bertram. I think my cousin knows us and you do not even know our guests. So don’t bother.” She said before striding away with the group towards the throne.
Bertram’s face was livid and he spouted obscenities under his breath as he left the throne room. Liara strode across the throne room with the others in tow under the whispers of the elite surrounding them. She stopped short of the throne where Darian sat with an exasperated and pained look.
“Dear cousin, did you have to make Bertram so mad?” Darian questioned, “You know he will take it out on me later.”
“It’s good for you Darian.” Liara replied icily, “Teaches you to stop making mistakes. Such as parading me through the town and then dressing me up at home.”
Darian visibly winced at her words before standing from his throne. He scanned the crowd before stopping and raising his voice, “Fea. Can you entertain our guests while I speak to Liara and her friends?”
A young blonde haired elf in an emerald dress stopped from her bustling of placing platters on a table to give a small curtsy and a radiant smile, “Of course dear.”
Darian smiled back and then led Liara and the group to a room down the hall from the throne room. The room was part study and part a small common room filled with bookcases, sofas, and armchairs with a single desk in the back. Darian took off his crown laying it on the desk as he sat behind it he motioned for the others to take seats. Mathias sat on a sofa with Liara sitting next to him.
“I see you and Ifeara are as happy as ever.” Mathias commented towards Darian.
Darian smiled again, “Yes. Though it was rocky at first since it was a political marriage.” Darian seemed lost in thought for a few moments before returning back to the conversation, “Anyway, perhaps we all should talk. I believe I recognize some of our guests but let us introduce each other anyway.”
Sacae started first with a short curtsy, “Sacae Talman. I was sent here by the Wizard Council. They said I would learn more when I arrived though.”
Darian nodded, “Those old codgers tend to get lazy with their duties. I will fill you in later of course.”
Sacae nodded before seating herself back in the armchair. Aiden shrugged and didn’t bother to stand but he spoke next.
“Aiden Raine, bounty hunter.” He said curtly, “Understand there is a nice bounty you are apparently offering. Came to look into it.”
Darian stared intently at Aiden before replying, “That is correct. As with Lady Talman though you shall wait.”
Aiden shrugged again just as Garrett removed himself from the wall he was standing next to and kneeling in the center of the room facing Darian.
“Garrett Dalaran milord.” Garrett said simply refusing it seems to say anymore.
“Dalaran?” both Liara and Darian said simultaneously staring at each other. Darian tentatively spoke up after clearing his throat, “I must ask. Would this be the same Dalaran…”
“That was accused of betraying the Paladins and murdering the last Divine Commander. Yes.” Garrett interrupted.
Darian’s face hardened seeming to weighing whether it was worth it to continue the conversation or not. Mathias decided then to stand and put a light hand on Garrett’s shoulder. Garrett flinched lightly but looked up at Mathias his eyes dark and unreadable. But Mathias just smiled down at him pointing to an armchair.
“I believe there is a story behind you friend.” Mathias said quietly, “I do love a good story if you wouldn’t mind?”
Garrett simply stared at the floor but slowly nodded before taking a seat in the armchair. Noticing all eyes in the room on him he nervously coughed before starting.
“Ten years ago when I was still a small lad who was nothing more than a simple stable hand and squire for my mother and father who were respected Paladins there were rumors of a new Chosen of Alddar. I heard she was only a few years older than me and I thought it would be interesting to see her face to face. But I ended up stumbling upon conversation between a group of Paladins. They were talking about assassinating the current Divine Commander at the time.
I of course took this news directly to my parents but when they brought the news to the Divine Commander they were laughed at and sent away. Shortly after that was when we noticed people close to us in the Paladins started disappearing. We were smuggled out of the city by the last people we could trust but soon after it seemed that the Divine Commander was murdered and my family was blamed for his death. My mother died shortly after holding off our pursuers while my father took me to a remote mountain village where he trained me.
The rest is pretty much known already. I was travelling from the village we lived in to here when I was surprised by those bandits and taken hostage.”
The room was quiet after the story, Mathias was scratching his chin while Darian and Liara seemed lost in thought. Aiden shrugged after the story and seemed to just sink lower into his armchair. After a moment Darian cleared his throat and spoke up.
“So if what you say is true,” Darian chose his words as carefully as he could, “your family is innocent but someone else within the ranks of the Paladins is to be blamed.”
Garrett nodded slowly, “But I was young and never caught their names. I only know of the ones who blamed my family.”
Darian’s eyes hardened, “I get the feeling I may know them as well.”
Garrett stared directly at Darian as he spoke, “Vathar Bamlan. Divine Commander of the Paladins.”
Mathias whistled lightly as Darian groaned inwardly, “Would be hard to pin it on him though.”
“I know this,” Garrett hanged his head, “But I came here hoping to find something, anything, which could clear my family name.”
Stroking his beard Darian spoke up again, “Well for now I will believe you so you will not have to worry about my men doing anything to you. But the Paladins are a… separate matter altogether.”
Liara sighed loudly and looked to Darian, “I am getting tired now cousin. Why don’t we finish up our matters?”
Darian glared at Liara but shrugged, “Well it may work out I suppose for everyone here. Aiden your bounty is to look into this group of black robed men prowling the countryside setting fire to shrines and small churches to Alddar.”
Aiden shot an eyebrow up, “Sounds easy enough I suppose.”
“Don’t take it too easy though something just doesn’t seem right about it all.” Darian then turned to Sacae, “Lady Talman I must ask you to accompany Aiden. These fires are not natural in any way.”
Sacae made a quizzical look to Darian, “Unnatural how exactly?”
“The very stone of the churches and shrines have melted for instance. Last time I checked only certain explosions or magical fires could melt stone easily.” Darian replied slightly sarcastically.
Sacae nodded lightly to which Darian smiled before turning to Mathias and Garrett, “As for you two. I would like to request you both accompany them. While I fully trust in the skills of Lady Talman and Aiden I personally would feel much more relaxed if they had more assistance.”
Garrett quickly saluted and agreed to join the other two. Mathias smiled and turned to Darian, “Certainly, on one request of course.”
Darian groaned lightly and eye’s started to dart around, “What exactly will you ask for this time?”
Mathias’ grin didn’t leave his face as he replied, “Liara will join us.”
Darian’s eyes went wide and his face livid but before he could even say anything Liara replied, “Agreed.”
Mouth agape Darian simply stared at the two before he sighed loudly and sand back into his chair waving his hand, “Very well.”
Mathias stood and bowed deeply if somewhat exaggeratedly, “Then we shall take our leave Darian.” Before waiting for a reply he left with the others in tow where once in the hallway Liara led them down another hallway and directed them each to rooms they could use for the night. They all left for their separate rooms without much else to say that evening as they knew they would meet again early in the morning to start out their journey.
Sacae stretched, the early morning sun peeking through the velvet curtains of the room she was in. Unlike the men, who were in small rooms in a hallway that was in another part of the palace, she was in a room that was more like an apartment that Liara had all to herself in one corner of the sprawling complex. As Sacae stood the silk nightgown she had borrowed, or more like forced upon her by Liara, unfurled itself from its crumpled state it was in and billowed out around her legs.
Sighing Sacae patted the gown down in certain spots slightly annoyed, “I do not understand how some women can wear these things.”
That was when she heard the door on the other side of the room, leading to the room Liara had used, creek open and a tired looking Liara wearing nothing but a simple pair of briefs entered the room stifling a loud yawn.
“Mmmm… ah.” Liara seemed to just notice Sacae, “Good morning Sacae.”
Sacae just stood there and stared for a few moments at the topless Liara before she seemed to remember her manners bowing awkwardly and turning her back to Liara, “Ah. Lady Liara. Good morning.”
A light chuckle escaped from Liara’s lips, “Ah sorry. I don’t usually wear anything to bed. You’re from Malorn are you not? They do not have community baths there if I remember correctly so this probably is a bit of an overall shock to you.”
Sacae had already stripped the billowy nightgown off and begun putting on her simple white and light brown linen clothes, “That’s right. I heard it was common down here in Alddar though.” She finished lacing up her blouse before glancing behind her.
Liara had already quickly put on slightly similar dark green linen hose and was lacing up a leather brassiere. “Mm yeah, something like that I suppose. I don’t go often but I suppose I am used to seeing others without clothes because of it.”
The rest of that early morning was spent idly chatting as they met the others and had breakfast with the Grand Duke before they all left once again to their rooms to gather any belongings they needed to bring with them. After that they all met outside of the palace where horses waited for them and Sacae was directed to a roan horse with a slightly droopy looking face. She had to hold herself back from calling it some silly name simply because of how it looked. Before long they had left the colorful city of Val Ald behind them and were traveling along the main road that ran northwest from the capital.
Their destination was a small village just across the river about three days from the capital. During these three days Sacae tried her best to judge her companions. For her all of this was new, she had grown up sheltered in a small village not far from the Imperial Capital of Malorn when her parents learned of her magic. But it wasn’t long before an accident happened that she forced her parents and village to allow her to live with the wizards and mages within the city walls. But it was there she was forced into an even further isolation as she was taught how to control her powers. In fact this was the first time she had even left the city of Malorn since becoming an official wizard on the council.
There was no official leader of the small group but it seemed to sway between Liara and Mathias. Liara carried herself as a leader, was a noble whether she cared to be considered one or not, and seemed to carry herself in a way that left little room to argue back towards her. But then there was Mathias, the white haired half elf confused Sacae. He didn’t seem to care much about most things and was often found dozing off in his saddle. But Liara was quick to listen to anything he said, even sometimes affectionately, and then there were the times at the palace Sacae recalled where he did not bother with titles even to the Grand Duke.
It seemed her other companions did not care either way about the situation either. The elf Aiden was used to working alone it seemed so just being with others had caused him to become mostly irritable. As such he was often riding off some ways from the others and when they stopped to eat lunch or for the night he would take his things and sit away from the group. Meanwhile the stern looking Garrett had seemed troubled ever since he told the group his story that night at the palace. So when he was tasked to gather firewood or help set up the tents he did so wordlessly and without complaint.
On the third day they were waiting on one side of the river in a small clearing just in sight of a small building owned by the man who owned the ferry that travelled across the river. Liara was currently in a heated argument with the ferryman who refused to ferry them across until that afternoon while Aiden and Garrett had disappeared after about twenty minutes into said argument each carrying a pole and bucket. Mathias was sitting idly with his back to a tree staring at Liara waving her hands in exaggeration seeming to emphasize her side of the argument.
“Sir Mathias,” Sacae spoke softly at one point, “May I ask you a question?”
“Just Mathias my dear.” Mathias said as he turned his attention to Sacae. “I carry no titles that would require one to call me sir.”
Sacae coughed lightly thinking how that had to be impossible, “Mathias then, if you will call me Sacae at least. Do you have any idea what we may be doing when we do cross the river?”
Mathias shrugged, “Hopefully find out some information quickly and find out who did this.”
“Think it will be that easy?” Sacae asked sarcastically.
“Hardly.” Mathias said with a smile.
Sacae was about to ask another question but that was when Liara came over kicking at the dirt. Saying some choice words about the ferryman. Sacae chose to ignore those words and pushed the question on her mind out of the way. Shortly after Liara returned so did Aiden and Garrett with a bucket full of fish that were quickly prepared over a fire to serve as a sort of improvised brunch. After they had all eaten Aiden had disappeared from the group while Garrett and Mathias talked idly next to the small fire. In what seemed like no time though the ferryman had yelled over saying he was ready to ferry them across the river and they quickly had gathered their things and were just as quickly ferried over to the small village that was their destination.
While the village seemed as normal as any countryside village could be there was an obvious tension in the air as the group travelled across it. The people quickly got out of their way and went indoors, no kids played in the streets, and most of the people they were able to talk to wouldn’t have even given them the time of day.
Liara clicked her tongue, “I was afraid they would act like this.”
Mathias though didn’t seem too perturbed by their reception, “We just need to find one who will talk to us is all.”
As they made their way across the village they came upon the sight of why they were called here originally. A shrine devoted to the God Alddar, or at least what used to be one probably, stood before them. Alddar was always depicted as a knight on a shining steed complete with white armor that shone in the light. As such simple village shrines such as this one had various types of white rocks chiseled out in its likeness. But what stood before them now was simply nothing more than a melted black stump.
“It’s as if someone poured acid on top of it…” Sacae murmured.
Mathias nodded grimly, “But I doubt anyone could simply carry such an acidic thing around easily… especially not enough to melt the entire statue.” Mathias rubbed his fingers along the base of the black stump and sniffed his fingers lightly, his eyes went wide for a moment before he started looking around some more.
Liara turned to Sacae, “So Sacae. Sense any magic here?”
Sacae peeled her eyes off the black stump and looked around, murmuring short incantations. “It appears this was some sort of magic that did this, but…”
“It isn’t any type I have personally seen.” Sacae shrugged.
Liara’s eyebrow shot up quizzically, “Are you not on the Wizard Council? Is there any type of magic you haven’t seen?”
“Liara. You know the old codgers at the Council have their secrets. They won’t let a new person know some of the old magic.” Mathias intervened.
It seemed Liara was about to retort but she shrugged. That was when a grizzled man with a worn robe shuffled his way over to the group.
“G’day masters. Are ye’ the ones from Val Ald tha’ the Gran’ Duke said ‘ed send o’er?” the old man questioned.
Liara looked over to Mathias who merely shrugged than to the old man, “Yes we are. You are?”
“Village Elder milady. Was I who was ‘ere tha’ night o’ tha’ attack.” The old man did some sort of rickety bow.
Mathias came over to the old man, “Anything you can tell us about it?”
“Not much I be afraid.” The old man said rubbing his beard, “T’was at night I ‘eard this loud crackin’ sound. When me an’ the lads came to an’ got o’er ‘ere the shrine were ablaze an’ black robed men went scattering to the winds. After tha’ we worried more ‘bout putting that blaze out.”
“What exactly did you put the fire out with?” Mathias questioned.
The old man look confused, “Well. Water o’ course.”
Mathias didn’t seem satisfied with the answer but he walked off examining the site again.
Liara seemed just as confused as the old man but shrugged before turning to the old man, “Anything else.”
“Aye, our neighbors up north say they were hit about a day or two after us.” The old man nodded slowly, “Oh, an’ they saw the robed men headin’ south-westerly. My guess is they are headin’ to the village west o’ ‘ere.”
“How long ago since they were seen?”
“Not e’en a day ago me thinks. My guess tha’ they will be tha’ way in a day or two at most.”
“Thank you good man.” Liara nodded and returned to her horse. “Mathias. Let’s go.”
Mathias grunted taking one last look around before returning to his horse. With that they all stuck out to the west putting pressure on their horses for speed. They chose to keep going some time into the night before they finally decided to make camp just a short ways off the road. They didn’t even bother that night to set up a camp. Instead they just rolled out their sleeping mats and laid down there. Sacae was tired from their hard riding and fell asleep almost immediately.
Sacae groggily woke up to the whispering of two individuals. The sun had not even risen high enough yet to give the dull pink glow on the horizon, meaning she probably had only slept for a few hours at best. She stretched quietly as she looked for the source of the whispering noticing it was hard to see in an early morning fog that had set in while they slept. She barely was able to make out sitting on the edge of their camp two individuals one with strikingly white hair that seemed to glow.
“So. What did you notice back there at the village Mathias?” Sacae noticed Liara’s voice so she assumed that was the one next to Mathias.
“It was faint. But the area around the shrine was dead. It was hard to notice since it was just dirt there really though.”
“Liara,” Sacae could hear Mathias’ exasperated tone, “Soil should never truly be ‘dead’ it just doesn’t happen naturally. Not even including the fact it was holy ground because of the shrine. That land was blighted.”
“Could it be because of the shrine being destroyed?”
“No… I think it was what destroyed it.”
“Hmm… so something is essentially killing the shrine and land…”
“I will just say yes to that for now and explain later. For now go wake up the others. We have visitors.”
Sacae perked up in alarm at that and that was when her elven enhanced hearing picked up the sound of footsteps in the tall grass. She whipped around to the camp to see Aiden was already awake with an arrow in his bow meanwhile Liara quietly roused Garrett as she herself grabbed her swords. As Garrett stood with his greatsword held defensively in his hands was when black robed figures entered their camp seeming to melt out of the early morning fog.
There were seven figures that entered the camp. But despite that something seemed off about them. Only two seemed to have any fullness to them, the other five simply seemed to be there but not there at the same time. Sacae held her hand into the air and said a short incantation, “Lestre de Val” and from her hand a small ball of light bounced its way a short way into the air and lit the camp up in its light. That was when she looked to the figures and gasped her eyes widening.
Sacae heard Aiden click his tongue before he shot his knocked arrow at one of the figures. Though the arrow did seem to ‘pierce’ something the force from the arrows impact cause the hood of the figure to fall back and where a head should have been was a mass of shadows. As if not caring for their disguises four of the other figures whipped off their robes. Joining the Shadow were four skeletons, two with wicked looking swords and shield, one wielding a bow already knocking an arrow ready to fire, and the last with a halberd.
The Shadow wordlessly raised its robed arm and the skeletons charged into the camp. Aiden dashed past Sacae, now wielding two curved short swords, taking on one of the skeletons that were on their side of the camp and their archer. On the other side of the camp Garrett nimbly, despite his size, fought the other two skeletons that came into the camp. Sacae looked around but no longer saw Liara or Mathias but she didn’t have much time to think about it as a bolt of fire whizzed across the air towards her.
Quickly Sacae held out her staff that quickly erected a magical barrier around her and when the bolt of fire impacted the barrier it diminished harmlessly against it though the impact itself shook her legs. Just as quickly as the spell diminished she retaliated, “Eis von Miad!” her barrier disappeared and around her shards of ice formed and quickly danced across the camp to the one that casted the firebolt, the Shadow.
The attack came as a shock to the Shadow, apparently not expecting one to retaliate against it, and its defense was too late as three of the five shards of ice pierced it in various places. Its shriek pierced over the other sounds of fighting and it glared towards Sacae. Though it had no face Sacae could swear she could make out two burning red eyes where the Shadow would have them. It once again raise its robed hand, this time a stream of lightning emitting from its fingertips. Again Sacae raised her staff and erected her barrier but the force from the attack forced her to her knees.
When Sacae looked up she noticed the Shadow striding over to her, materializing a sword from the very shadows. She glanced over to Aiden, the archer skeleton was nothing more than a pile of bones now and he had knocked the entire arm that held the shield off the other skeleton he was fighting but the creature was still flailing its sword wildly. Glancing over towards Garrett she saw he had cleaved one of the skeletons in half down the middle, but the other skeleton was proving to be just as nimble as the large man. She finally turned back to the shadow who was now in the center of the camp.
Sacae smiled, “I believe that is close enough for you… Lestre Hesan!”
Suddenly the ball of light that illuminated the camp shone brightly and exploded outwards. A column of fire landed directly onto the shadow. Its shriek pierced the morning air for mere seconds before it was snuffed out. Shortly afterwards the remaining skeletons fell to shambles. Sacae gasped for air breathing heavily. Aiden walked across the charred clearing the spell had created wiping sweat from his brow.
“Where are Liara and Mathias?” he questioned looking around.
Through her gasps for breath Sacae managed an answer, “Haven’t… seen them…”
“Good job Sacae.” A familiar voice called out from the brush.
Pushing his way into the camp Mathias was currently dragging one of the black robed figures Sacae noticed that didn’t look like the others. Liara in tow both her sword and dagger dripping fresh blood.
“The other two tried to get away. One didn’t make it very far. This one put up a good fight though.” She said nonchalantly wiping the blood from her blades.
“And you might be shocked to see what is under the black robe.” Mathias said as he tossed the corpse into the center of the camp. White and gold steel peeking through the various cuts in the cloth.
“That armor,” it was Garrett who spoke first, “That is the Paladin armor.
Mathias nodded, “Incidentally they were carrying this.” He pulled out an envelope, “I’ll spare you the details of what is in here since we are already aware of them from the village.”
“Destroying the shrines?” Aiden even seemed moderately curious at what was transpiring.
Again Mathias nodded, “The biggest sticker though is the signature at the bottom.”
No one needed him to answer his own question. They all knew the answer after all. Only one man controlled the Paladins.
“Lord Vathar Bamlan. Divine Commander of the Paladin Order.” He said as he quietly put the letter back in its envelope and into his bags.
Her Holiness, Lady Alistra Bamlan, Chosen of Alddar, if it were not for her holy powers the best thing she would be known for right now in her life is the fact she is the twin sister of the Divine Commander of the Paladins. But ever since she was a small child she had the fortune, though she sometimes considered it the misfortune, to be able to create holy miracles. Though she only personally considered two of these so called miracles to have been actual miracles and the rest she just considered superstition of the commoners going out of control.
The first of these miracles was when she was only a young child of five or so and she had never told anyone of it. But from what she recalled of that incident a brave man had protected her from certain death but in the process had perished himself. So she cried for hours or days she was never sure which pleading for the man to return when finally he breathed again. Though the man was different from that day on she was happy to have saved the one who had saved her.
The other was ten years ago when she was recognized as the Chosen of Alddar. She had just had her sixteenth birthday and everything was going fairly normally until all of a sudden she had started floating in the air glowing and speaking with another voice about some sort of end times. At least that is what she was told since she didn’t remember a thing from that day other than it was when her life changed to be the head of the church of Alddar.
One day while idly relaxing in a white velvet armchair next to the window while playing with her blonde curls she noticed something peculiar. Normally one probably wouldn’t have even noticed such a thing but after so many years Alistra had noticed that not much around her physically changed. So when one day all of a sudden there seemed to be far more of her brothers Paladins around she started to get curious. One of her few, at least she liked to seem it was one of only a few, failings she had was being too curious for her own good. Thus she created a sect within her church that gathered information not only from the city but from all over Avol.
Lightly ringing a bell that sat on a table near her chair she stood to face the chestnut haired lady that entered the room silently.
“Yes, Most Holy?” the chestnut haired girl said bowing to Alistra.
“Catherine. I have told you many times I do not like being called that.” Alistra puffed her cheek out protest.
“Forgive me, Most Holy.” Catherine replied with an innocent smile.
Alistra sighed, “Whatever. Catherine can you do me a favor? It seems my brother is bringing a fair amount of his Paladins into the city lately. I would like you to look into it for me.”
Catherine bowed deeper, “Of course. Is that all?”
“For now… Oh wait no, call for Falstam. I would like lunch.” Alistra seemed to remember at the last moment.
Catherine smiled before bowing again and leaving the room as quietly as she had arrived. Alistra twirled around, her white dress billowing out, as she headed to the window to look out across the city that the window conveniently provided her. She didn’t know what was going on but she personally felt like something big was about to happen. Her innate curiosity seemed to set her spirit on fire at the very thought of it all.
The following day it was hard for Alistra to stay calm through her usual morning ceremonies. The entire time she felt like she may say wrong line or whatever else and have the entire town throw a fit at the exchange. But she was able to manage barely even though she could have sworn she heard some in the front row chuckling about her performance today as she got off the podium and headed into the hallway that led to her rooms in the cathedral.
“A moving ceremony as always.” A familiar voice called out to her from behind her.
Turning her head she saw her brother Vathar wearing a white doublet with gold trim and similar hose walk out from a side passage. His golden hair as always framed his face and fell across his shoulders. She barely saw it out of the corner of her eye but she was sure he hid something behind his back as she turned. Looking her brother in the eyes staring hard into their blue depths she gave a soft smile.
“I have been doing it for many years now Vathar.” She replied politely.
Vathar chuckled lightly, “Of course. Ah just so you know Alistra. I will be leaving tonight for some… business. I will return in a few days. Just wanted you to know.”
Alistra smiled lightly, “Do be safe then. I will pray for your safe return.”
“Then I will be the safest man in the world.” With that he turned on his heel and walked down the hallway.
Alistra watched him walk down the hall until he had turned and left into the main hall before she shivered lightly, turned, and headed for her rooms. In her rooms she saw Catherine waiting for her.
“Most Holy.” Catherine said bowing politely.
“Please do not do that right now Catherine.” Alistra said curtly holding her arms.
Catherine’s eyes shot up, “Is something the matter?”
“I met my brother in the hall. Something felt… weird about the whole ordeal though.” Alistra threw herself into her chair, grabbing a cookie that lay on the table next to it.
Catherine seemed to be lost in thought before replying, “Would you like to know what I have found out milady?”
Alistra looked sharply at Catherine. Rarely did she ever take her advice and not call her Most Holy and even rarer was it she called her milady. Silently and slowly she nodded to the girl.
“I do not know all the details I am afraid as those Paladins seem very tight lipped compared to usual. But all of them feel off to talk to and I am fairly certain every Paladin in the Order is currently in the city.” Catherine reported.
Alistra’s eyes went wide. The Paladin Order was possibly the third largest organization in Alddar behind her own church and the army. She didn’t like the sound of all of this especially given what happened around ten years ago.
“That is not all milady,” Catherine continued, “It seems the Grand Duke has sensed something amiss as well. He sent a group of well experienced… I suppose we could call them adventurers out to investigate what has been happening at the countryside shrines and small churches. He also has recalled most of the army into the city and what couldn’t fit inside the city is currently being set up outside of the city.”
Of course Alistra had heard about the shrine and church incidents. She even ordered her brother to have it investigated. So why was the Grand Duke interested in it now? Did her brother not do anything about it? She looked up at Catherine.
“How is the army being here being handled?” Alistra asked quietly.
Catherine shrugged lightly, “One half seems to believe it being a relief to see family and friends before some large scale mission. Others say it is not that but some sort of training exercise.”
Alistra nodded. Taking in all the information she just received trying to make heads or tails of it all.
“If that is all milady. I would like to rest if that is all right with you?” Catherine said bowing her head.
Alistra noticed now that Catherine did look tired and smiled, “Of course Catherine, rest well. On your way to your quarters send up Lisbeth. I wish to speak to her.”
Catherine bowed deeply before leaving Alistra alone in her room. Alistra’s thoughts were in turmoil over all of the information. Mainly because she could not make heads or tails of it all. She screamed in frustration as everything hit its boiling point to which she ended with a sigh as she draped her body on the cold stone of her balcony. She looked gloomily over the city at its peak just before the midday wondering what could be in store for the future.
The following days seemed to be a complete blur for Alistra. Among her followers in the church were very strong and able individuals, many who had kept their martial training up to date despite becoming one of the cloth. She tasked the individuals to begin keeping an eye on the Paladins as well as quietly defend the cathedral and herself. She didn’t like to seem paranoid but there were far too many pieces in play for her to sit by idly anymore.
Other than that though nothing seemed to have changed. Her brothers Paladins seemed to be idly passing time or so it seemed while the army continued its forced increase in city guards and training outside the city. On one evening nearly a week after all these events started Alistra got a message.
“Most Holy,” Catherine began her usual greeting with a slight bow, “Lady Liara wishes to speak to you about an urgent matter.”
Alistra blinked her eyes, “Liara… I do wonder what she would want.” Alistra pondered for a moment before sighing, “Even if it is Liara my nerves are at wits end right now. I will meet her but have the sisters gather in the main hall. We will do it there.”
Catherine bowed before leaving the room. Alistra donned her usual ceremonial white robes and strode confidently to the main hall where Catherine waited for her with seven others. A quick order from Catherine had all but herself and Lisbeth, another of the sisters, go to the shadows in the room. Alistra nodded once before Catherine left to lead Liara in.
Alistra noticed though Liara was not alone. She was followed by a red haired half elf female who seemed to have a confused look on her face as she looked at another of their party, a man, who had his green cloak pulled to the point it shrouded his face. There were also two other men an elf covered in many battle scars, his look bored yet curious. The last man was a tall and handsome man who wore the same armor as his brothers Paladins.
“Lady Liara. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Alistra said as calmly as she could manage.
“Most Holy.” Liara bowed motioning for the others to do the same, “I have news… but I would prefer it to be for your ears alone.”
“Forgive me Liara.” Alistra replied curtly, “My nerves are on edge lately. I will not be alone right now. You can speak freely. My sisters will not allow news to travel out of this room.”
“All eight of them?” the hooded man’s voice rang clearly.
Alistra’s eyes went wide as she stepped backwards. Catherine and the other sisters stepped forward brandishing their weapons.
“I am sorry Lady Liara, but even if it is you I will not hesitate if it is to protect Alistra.” Catherine’s eyes were hard as stone as she eyed the group.
The hooded man pushed himself forward, “Let us stop these silly games already and talk.”
The man pushed his hood back revealing crisp white hair that seemed to glow even in the faint light of the evening. His red eyes pierced through those that looked at him. An audible gasp came from Alistra’s throat and she nearly screamed, her eyes bulging out of her head.
“You!” Alistra couldn’t believe her eyes as she rushed over to the white haired man grabbing his face pushing and pulling it this way and that.
Mostly everyone in the hall had the same incredulous look on their face as they watched the exchange between one most considered the Most Holy of their religion and what appeared to be nothing more than a nameless nobody.
The man grabbed her hands gently pushing them down, “There can be time for that later Alistra. We need to talk. I do not care if your subordinates hear it honestly.” He turned to Liara and nodded.
Liara coughed uncomfortably as she fished an envelope out of her pouch and handed it to Alistra, “You may want to read this.”
Alistra grabbed the envelope and read the letters it contained. Her face paling the further she read and when she finished she crumpled the letters and threw them off to the side. She did not turn to face the others as she asked, “How much evidence did you find?”
The white haired man replied first, “Enough to know it is true.”
Alistra gritted her teeth as Catherine walked up to her, “Most Holy?”
Looking at Catherine all Alistra could do was sigh before turning back to Liara and her party, “Honestly with everything that has been going on lately. I am inclined to believe you all. Even if it is hard to swallow.”
The white haired man smiled sadly and nodded. He was about to speak when a loud crash could be heard at the entrance of the hall that made them all whip their heads around. Entering the hall a group of five Paladins entered led by Vathar. They were all in full armor with their weapons brandished out in front of them. Vathar looked coolly across everyone gathered and laughed lightly.
“Oh my,” Vathar’s voice coolly rasped, “What a welcoming party.”
“Vathar.” Alistra’s voice dominated over the Paladins, “What is the meaning of all of this?”
Vathar stared at Alistra his stare icy and piercing, “Be silent sister. If you stay silent I may offer you a painless death.”
Alistra’s eyes widened, she had never heard her brother speak this way.
“You scum. You dare speak to the Most Holy like that?!” one of the sisters yelled before charging at the Paladin.
Vathar simply stared at the girl who charged at him. Before the girl reached him though one of his Paladins deftly struck the girl in the side with his sword. Cleanly the girl was cleaved in half given she wore little in the way of armor and the large Paladin’s sword was used to cleaving through plate armor. A shrill scream erupted from Alistra’s mouth at what she just witnessed.
The white haired man grimaced before stepping up, “What are you after Vathar?”
Vathar’s icy gaze was leveled at the white haired man as a wicked grin spread across his face and he raised his arms in the air. What happened next no one would believe, even those who were there hardly believed it, as the white and gold armor of the Paladins began to blotch and darken. White giving way to a pure black like obsidian and the gold melted into a red that seemed to be the very color of blood. The crosses that adorned their armor before twisted and churned until their final forms were grotesque skulls impaled on spikes. Vathar’s golden hair and skin drained of color until it was a pale grey and his blue eyes glowed an eerie ghastly light.
“Death, friend of Darian. I am after the desecration of life itself.” Vathar’s voice was hollow as it echoed across the stunned and silent room.
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.
Sacae’s eyes went wide as she watched from across the square as Aiden’s body fell lifelessly to the ground. She then felt a rough pull on her shoulder as she was pushed back by Liara who charged forward to distract an incoming Paladin. Shaking her head Sacae tried clearing her head, she couldn’t get shocked now or she would meet the same fate as Aiden. But all of these events were new and upsetting to her, she who had spent most of her life sheltered, away from dark events such as these, and now it seemed everything she had been sheltered from was now happening all at once.
Standing up Sacae faced the line of Paladins that bared down on her and Liara as they were pushed towards the wall of one of the buildings walling in the square.
“This isn’t looking good for us…” Liara said her breathing heavy as she readied her sword.
Sacae stepped in front of Liara her eyes determined. “Liara try to rest if you can. I will do what I can.”
Liara looked incredulously at Sacae but anything she was about to say was ignored as Sacae rapped the steel-tipped bottom of her staff on the cobblestones and a glowing rune shone brightly at her feet.
“Gaia ma Avol le Palli!” Sacae cast her words out and for a moment nothing happened but the next moment the cobblestones cracked and the earth erupted upwards taking the form of hunchbacked humanoid like creatures.
“Golems…” Liara said clearly shocked as four of the ten feet tall creatures made a half circle wall in front of her and Sacae.
The Paladins took a step backwards clearly not expecting the reinforcements either and that step backwards proved to be fatal for them as the Golems charged the Paladins flailing their large fists at them bashing their armor and crushing them under foot. Even when the Paladins that survived the initial charge attacked the creatures their swords merely glanced off their stone hides or got stuck in the clay and muck that made up the rest of their skins.
With the help of the Golems they pushed back the Paladins in their section of the square. Nearby soldiers sank to their knees or quickly lied down panting and breathing heavily. Medics quickly made rounds through the soldiers diagnosing those from mortal wounds or who could be bandaged up. Liara sank to her knees as well next to Sacae and chuckled lightly.
“Didn’t think I would have the chance to rest like this…” Liara said with a tinge of sarcasm in her voice.
Sacae forced a smile on her face but it quickly dropped again as she heard a crash across the square and as she whipped her head to the noise she saw one of her golems collapse into a heap of earth and mud. On the other side of the golem Vathar stood over the pile of earth with his cold eyes locked onto Sacae. She could hear behind her the soldiers beginning to lose hope and Liara clicked her tongue next to her as she struggled to her feet.
Turning to Liara all Sacae could do was stay silent as a single tear rolled down Liara’s cheek. She knew why that tear was there. Their situation was becoming more and more hopeless as it carried on. The Paladins were quickly reorganizing and were gaining superiority here in the square, especially with Vathar here, Darian and most of the soldiers could not even be seen anywhere, Mathias, Alistra, and Catherine had not been seen since the Paladin’s initial charge, and friends and allies were dying left and right.
Vathar was walking slowly across the square, his sword dragging slowly along the stones making a scraping sound, the look of pure hatred made his eyes burn even further. He stopped about halfway across the square as his stare bored holes into Sacae. Suddenly a devilish laughter erupted from his lips as he almost bowled over.
“Hah! I didn’t expect that child of a Grand Duke actually had competent allies!” Vathar’s voice even seethed with hate as he yelled across the square, “But… no matter how many allies he has it will make no difference.”
He lifted his sword pointing it at Sacae, “You… mage… shall be my first target before I slaughter those pathetic mongrels behind you.”
Vathar took one step forward but then a horn erupted from the far end of the square from where they all were. Whipping his head around the hatred on his face showing ten times more he stared as a host of soldiers and cavalry pounded into the square catching the organizing Paladins off guard and quickly pushing their way into superiority over the area. Leading a group from the main body of soldiers and cavalry was Darian, with him Alistra and Cathering accompanied by a host of soldiers, came over to where Vathar and his remaining Paladins who had escaped the charge were now in one corner of the square.
Darian wheeled his horse a few yards away from Vathar and his Paladins the look on his face full of smug confidence. He looked down on the Paladin even as he sneered up at him. A smile broke the bearded duke’s face as he finally talked to Vathar, “All right Vathar. It is time to give up. You and your traitorous Paladins are finished.”
Vathar sneered at Darian, “To what? Die by your hand child?” He spat on the ground, “No Darian. We are not finished.”
He pointed his sword to Darian before raising it high in the air. The air froze and frost began flowing from the sword, slicking up the cobblestone street and sticking to the steel armor of his Paladins and the nearby soldiers. His eyes glowed with their eerie light as he cackled loudly over the roar of the blizzard that was emanating from his sword.
“Gh! Someone stop him!” Darian roared over the sound just before his horse bucked him off onto his back as it ran full speed away.
Vathar grinned devilishly, “You’re soul is mine Darian!”
He swung his blade full force into the ground, the earth cracking under the blow, as a column of ice and air erupted in a straight line from the impact towards Darian. Just as it seemed to impact Darian the attack split off in two directions in a V shape. Vathar stood clicking his tongue as he stared through the debris and standing there in front of Darian was Sacae.
“Mage… You have crossed many lines today. I will assure you cross no more.” Vathar’s eyes glared with pure hate as he strode towards Sacae.
Under a silent order it seemed the remaining Paladins also charged the group of soldiers that had formed up around Darian and the others. Even though a battle erupted around them Sacae stared only at Vathar as he slowly crossed the remaining yards to her. He roared as he charged towards her his blade held high.
His first strike thudded dully into the cobblestones as she dodged out of the way but unlike her Vathar was a seasoned fighter and his first attack was followed up by a series of following attacks that she barely was able to dodge or shield herself from with magic. One of his attacks broke through her magic barrier pushing her back some feet away. She slammed her staff into the ground to steady herself as Vathar charged her again.
“Lestre em Vol!” The crystal imbedded into the top of her staff erupted with a bright light as a shockwave pulsed out from her and her staff faltering Vathar’s charge and knocking down nearby soldiers and Paladins alike.
She spun her staff around holding it in both hands, “Gaia ol Invad.” The wood of her staff morphed and warped the color changing from its dull oak brown to an off white hew.
The next moment Vathar who had regained his footing was upon her and struck viciously with a downward strike that she parried with her staff. The impact giving a metallic clang and clearly catching Vathar off guard. Her staff which was simply wood before now gave off a metallic shine clearly having changed into metal.
Sacae grinned, “Raij en Ele.”
The crystal on her staff sparked as sparks of lightning erupted from it travelling down her staff and across the connection of her staff and Vathar’s sword shocking the Paladin as he roared in pain. She danced backwards away from Vathar before spinning her staff in her hands again and striking Vathar soundly in the chest. Another glow from her staff as it contacted with Vathar set off another shockwave that sent him flying across the square.
Vathar cursed and spat as he stood back up he glared with undying hate towards Sacae, “I will kill you, you mage bitch.” He charged again but stopped shortly after starting his charge parrying a sword strike but at the other end of the sword was nothing but air. The sword floated in the air as if someone was holding it but there was no one there. Vathar whipped his head towards Sacae to notice various other weapons rising from the ground and encircling him.
Vathar clicked his tongue as he parried another attack. His eyes glowed and runes that were on his sword glowed with the same eerie blue glow. When he slashed the air with his sword a large blade of ice formed in the air and cut across the square. The blade of ice cut through blade, armor, soldier, and Paladin alike as it sought out its target. Sacae barely had the time to erect her magical barrier to survive the attack even though the blade cut through her barrier after moments it was long enough to halt it until it disappeared.
But the erection of her barrier had distracted her concentration from her spell that held the weapons so when she looked up she was hardly surprised to see Vathar bearing down on her with a wild look in his eyes. His sword rose high into the air about to crash down upon her and there was no way she could avoid the attack as it came crashing down.
As the sword was coming down though Vathar let out a howl of pain, arching backwards and raising his leg up, glaring towards his leg. Sacae followed his glare to see a bloody Aiden let go of a curved dagger that stuck out of a gap between Vathar’s armor as he collapsed back to the ground, a light and forced grin on his face as his life finally left him.
Vathar rose his sword high above him again and prepared to hit the elf when a large body came crashing into him making the sword fly from his hand and skid a few feet away. Vathar tussled with the man punching and biting as he tried to gain control of the situation. Sacae returned to her senses to see it was Garrett who was fighting with Vathar now. A moment later Vathar pushed Garrett off of him and grabbed his blade as he pushed himself up off the ground.
“I’m just as tired of you boy as I am of that damn mage.” Vathar was breathing heavily as he grabbed his sword with both hands.
Garrett though stood there with no sword until Darian pushed his way to the large man and pushed his sword into Garrett’s hand nodding. Garrett nodded back before taking the sword up with both hands and charged Vathar. Sacae just looked on surprised really that just a few moments ago she was fighting that man herself. But even though it seemed Vathar was on his last leg he cackled maniacally as he thrust his sword into the stone street.
A pulse soared through the air and ground seeming to cover at least the entire square.
Another pulse was felt by everyone just as the bodies of the dead began to stir across the square.
A heaving sigh was heard as the dead shambled from across the square. Their glowing blue eyes boring fear into the hearts of the living around them. Enemies, Allies, unfortunate citizens, any and all that were in the square and had died now rose to fight again. All of them faithful servants of the madman in the center of the square. Vathar took his sword and attacked with renewed vigor at the nearby Garrett while the undead began attacking the shocked soldiers.
Sacae began to attack with spell and staff at all the nearby undead and was surprised to see how weak they were. That was when she felt the light touch of a hand on her shoulder and she whipped around with her staff at the ready but standing before her was Alistra, with Catherine a few steps behind her.
“I need your help mage.” Alistra sternly commanded of Sacae who could do nothing more than dumbly nod as Alistra led her away.
Mathias deftly slashed through two Paladins as they entangled themselves with the nearby soldiers. They both fell limply to the ground as the soldiers cheered and moved on to clear out anymore Paladins and undead in the district. He was in the Cathedral district, he had led some soldiers this way when the fighting erupted to clear out any Paladins there. They were about to return when all of a sudden everyone they had killed earlier had risen again. His senses told him they had finished clearing out the district but of course the soldiers would never just believe his word so he let them fan out in groups to do a thorough search.
While the soldiers turned over every stone and broke into the buildings of the district Mathias walked up to the remains of the Cathedral itself. At this point the fire had mostly used up all of the burnable material and had snuffed itself out except for in a few spots here and there. He noticed though how even the very stone of the Cathedral had seemed to melt against the fire and his eyes narrowed. His ears perked up at a faint sound and he whipped around with his sword held in front of him.
Standing before him was a woman wearing a revealing black robe with gold accents, the parts revealed by the robe showing a see through mesh, and a golden circlet adorned her jet black hair. Her violet eyes gleamed as a very small smile cracked across her face.
“My… my… we do have good hearing now don’t we?” the woman said pressing a finger lightly to her chin.
Mathias stared at the woman before replying, “Who are you?”
“Me? Oh don’t worry about me now. I am no one in particular after all.” She said cloyingly as she grinned at Mathias.
Leveling his sword Mathias asked again, “Who are you?!”
The woman stared at the sword with an annoyed look, much like one would look at fly, “Oh please. Enough with that.”
She swiped her hand through the air as if swatting a bug and Mathias’ sword flew from his hand clanging against the stone street. Mathias’ eyes went wide as he stared at the woman as she chuckled.
The woman smiled lightly before turning her head towards the rest of the city, “Oh dear… it looks like my pawn is about to lose…” she turned back to Mathias, “Know this, White Wolf, great things are afoot and while you may not be the centerpiece of these events. You will always be close to them. But you are essential… so try not to die my dear.”
She grinned lightly as a miasmic black cloud poured out of the stones around her enveloping her and the next second the cloud began to dissipate and she was nowhere to be seen. Mathias was silent as he quietly picked his sword back up and sheathed it. He turned to the city just a bright white light began emanating from towards the main square. Mathias took one last look at the burned out Cathedral behind him as he ran full speed towards the glowing light.
Sacae was standing in front of a makeshift stage that had been quickly put together out of crates and wooden planks that were found by the soldiers when they were able to regroup. She stood there with the nearby soldiers and golems she had just created in a semi-circle around the stage as the back of the stage hit the wall. Turning around she looked at the single person who stood on the stage, Alistra.
“Will this really work?” Sacae questioned Alistra.
Alistra looked down at Sacae, “I hope so…”
With that Alistra stood in the exact center of the stage and began singing. Her voice was beautiful and carried across the square with ease with the help of Sacae’s magic. As she sang her body emanated a calming warm light that lit up the early dawn morning and spread from her across the soldiers that guarded her. As the light hit the undead their silent pain could be seen on their faces as they crumpled into dust and as the light hit Vathar he sneered and roared at the few remaining Paladins who were not undead to charge her and kill her as he barely parried another attack from Garrett.
But the remaining Paladins were too few and the defense around Alistra was too strong as they were promptly eliminated before even making it half way across the area towards her. Even over Alistra’s song Sacae could hear Vathar’s cursing now that most of the fighting had ceased except for the fight against Vathar and Garrett. Garrett’s armor seemed to absorb the light that Alistra emanated and it glowed with intensity as he fought Vathar.
A deft strike from Garrett caused Vathar to fall to his knees his blade skidding across the stones a few feet away from him. Before he could regain his composure a sword held him down pressing against his neck. He looked up with a sneer as Garrett stood above him, the sword pressing harder against his neck. He saw the golden clad Darian step over in sight.
“It’s over Vathar.” Darian said sternly, his arm wrapped up in bandages.
Vathar sneered just as Mathias ran up to area, “It is never… over Darian.”
Darian sighed, “Garrett.”
Vathar felt the man in front of him tense up at the mention of his name though his eyes never left him.
“As Grand Duke of Alddar I give you permission to kill this bastard.” Darian commanded sternly.
Garrett looked to Alistra who nodded, he returned the nod as he raised his sword up high. As the sword came crashing down though a shower of sparks flowed from an impact with a weapon and Garrett jumped backwards holding his sword defensively. Standing over Vathar stood a black robed man wielding a wicked looking scythe. Spinning the scythe in his hand he turned to Darian and the other onlookers.
“I shall not allow you to kill this one. He is coming with me.” The man’s voice echoed hollowly.
“Who the hell are you?” Darian stared incredulously at the man.
But the man chose not to reply instead he rapped the bottom of his scythe three times on the ground and suddenly a violent windstorm started. Above them a miasmic black cloud swirled violently blackening the sky. As if tearing its way through the very sky a large black dragon clawed its way through the miasmic swirling cloud and landed with an earthshattering impact in the square.
The dragon was large, filling up most of the square by itself, pushing most of the soldiers to their breaking point as they fled the square. Its tail sliced easily through the nearby buildings as it lowered itself to peer directly at those around it. The huge red eye of the dragon blinked with a hatred similar to what everyone had seen from Vathar all day.
“A… dragon…” Sacae barely breathed her words. She was as shocked as those who remained around her, which was not much more than a handful of soldiers, her golems, Alistra and Liara.
The next moment though the dragon rose and began to fly again. In its claw Vathar held on as the dragon took flight and flew straight into the seething vortex above. As it passed the vortex it closed behind it and the wind calmed down. In the center of the square where the dragon once stood, and before it Vathar and the robed man, stood now only the robed man with his scythe. He turned to Darian nodding lightly as a similar miasmic black cloud rose from the ground enveloping him. When the cloud dissipated nothing remained.
All that remained afterwards was an awkward stunned silence as everyone registered what actually happened. Eventually orders were being given to begin cleaning up the destruction and getting the citizens inside the city after a thorough search to clear out any possible remaining resistance in the city. Sacae was not sure how or when but through some process of talking with Liara and Mathias and then orders from Darian she ended up back in the rooms from before that she had shared with Liara in the palace.
She was exhausted, which wasn’t entirely insane to think about given the fact the sun’s position told her it was late morning now and the last time she rested was lunch the previous day. But her adrenaline still pumped and kept her up even though her mind and body protested for sleep. She had seen so many things in the short time since she left Malorn most of which she would have never experienced had she stayed there in the city.
Slowly but surely Sacae started succumbing to sleep. Though before falling asleep she noticed others drift in and out of the rooms. Liara and Alistra had come by and talked about how Garrett would become the new divine commander of the Paladins and rebuild the Order as it once was. While Darian came by and talked about certain statistics such as estimates of death counts and damage costs. Mathias even came by shortly to discuss the dragon and the even in general which perked her up for a moment but not enough to keep her from falling asleep completely.
When Sacae woke up again she could see early morning light peeking its way through the window near the bed she lay on. Looking out the window she could see the city was already in stages of repair and clean up. She scratched the back of her head as she walked towards the common room that connected all of Liara’s rooms. In the center of the room sitting at a table Mathias and Liara were quietly having breakfast together.
“Well look who woke up.” Mathias chuckled lightly as Sacae entered the room.
“I can’t believe I slept for nearly a full day…” Sacae yawned loudly as Liara beckoned her to the table.
“Oh?” Liara playfully chided, “You were out for nearly three days.”
Sacae was glad she had not started drinking the clear water she was offered as she started coughing in surprise, “Th…three days?!”
Liara nodded as she chuckled, “Three days.”
The rest of that morning was spent detailing everything she had apparently missed. Garrett had accepted Alistra’s offer to reform the Paladin Order even though because of the events of the last few weeks he was now the only Paladin. As such for the last three days he had been doing ceremony after ceremony preparing to take his position and start recruiting for the Order itself. Meanwhile cleaning up of the city had gone by exceedingly fast with bodies having been taken out of the city and buried or burned and repairs followed quickly after.
“And… I guess the last bit is Aiden is on his way home.” Mathias finished the report.
“Aiden?” Sacae questioned with a tinge of shock, “But I thought he…”
“Died. Yes.” Mathias said somberly, “I was able to gather his body and using a certain magic I know preserved the body. I plan to take the body to Gairdin.”
Sacae blinked taking in all the news. She turned to Liara and asked, “So when do you two plan to leave?”
Liara waved her hand in front of her face as she shook her head, “Oh I won’t be going. I hate riding boats for one thing and I have plenty of things to do here after all.”
Mathias finished off his breakfast and turned to Sacae, “You are welcome to come though Sacae. Going from what you said before you never have seen anything but Malorn and what you have seen the last few weeks. Guess that would mean you are slightly curious at seeing your ancestral home.”
It was true Sacae was a half elf so half of her heritage came from Gairdin so she couldn’t say she wasn’t interested. But in the back of her mind she wondered if it would cause a problem with the Wizard Council back in Malorn, especially since they probably would want a report of everything that transpired once word and rumor reached them. She quickly pushed that thought out of her mind though as she smiled lightly back at Mathias.
“Certainly. I would love to come along Mathias.”