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Out of Reflection, Into Reality Sequel to Dark Mirror

#51 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 02 September 2014 - 12:03 AM

Creating the air bubble had proven to be a simpler task than Katerei had feared. Beorn seemed to understand the magic of her people almost as well as she did. When she was done, Beorn doused the torch, and the darkness became absolute.

Again she remembered Avatara's warnings about Selax and shivered. Still, if there was any chance Beorn knew something about what had happened…

She was disturbed from her musings by the sound of Beorn casting a spell. They both floated in the middle of the bubble, which sat just under the surface of the water. The pool had indeed proved to be much deeper than it looked, and they floated now within a water-filled tunnel.

"What are you doing?" she asked warily.

"Granting us a form of night vision. We can carry no torches through the water, and there is no light down there." Finishing his task, he turned toward her. "There are several branching tunnels that lead to different parts of the undercity. I have explored them all, but it has been some time. They may have changed, but I believe I can direct us close enough to the artifact we need to give us a chance of retrieving it in short order."

"And if you can't?"

Beorn paused.

"Let us hope that it will not come to that."

He did not see the need to add that he was no longer even certain if what he sought was still present. Beorn was certain that Selax had recently visited the undercity. Whether or not he would have known that Beorn would come there as well, he did not know.

Katerei did not reply, her silence being answer enough. As Beorn had promised, the blackness gave way to a gray gloom. Above her, she could see the cave ceiling. The sides of the tunnel below the surface were flat, as though a torrential storm had worn them smooth. Below her, the tunnel stretched out of sight.

Slowly, she allowed the air bubble to descend. Neither of them spoke, and the minutes began to slowly tick away.

Suddenly, she saw the outline of another opening within the walls of the tunnel. Katerei glanced at Beorn but he made no sign.

As their descent continued, she began to see more openings, the other tunnels Beorn had mentioned. At first, they served as a break to the monotony, something beyond their slow descent and their gray surroundings. The sight soon became regular, however.

She glanced up, the lines of the tunnel receding out of view above them. For a moment, she shuddered, feeling that she was encased in a tomb.

Suddenly, he stirred and pointed to one of the entrances below them.

"Through there," he said, before lapsing back into silence.

With some difficulty, Katerei managed to maneuver their unwieldy transport, and they slipped into the new cave, continuing in silence. Time passed slowly. Katerei began to feel like it must have been hours and still they pressed on the dim twilight about them. The only change was the ever increasing sensation of stifling. Beorn occasionally spoke to direct her through the warren of tunnels.

Finally, Katerei asked, "Why did you explore these anyway? You mentioned these weren't your usual methods of reaching this place."

Beorn considered the question. He disliked telling too much information, but he needed Katerei's aid. Antagonizing her over trivial matters would be pointless.

"I wished to know what paths the Undine might use. I also desired to be able to enter the undercity through another means, should my usual routes be discovered."

The conversation died (such as it was), and their journey continued. The tunnels began to wind about, and Katerei was soon occupied keeping them headed on the path Beorn indicated they should take.

Suddenly, something appeared out of the darkness in front of them. So close, it seemed to fill their vision.

The horrible scaled head of a scylla floated in front of them.

Katerei tensed in preparation of an attack, but the monster did not move or make any sign that it had seen them.

"It seems to be inert," Beorn observed. "The current debilitated state of the Undine must have sent their creatures into dormancy."

"And you didn't think it necessary to mention these were here?" she muttered, recovering from her shock.

"I did not know." He frowned. "The Undine must have placed these here since I last visited. If we survive this experience, I shall have to find out why."

More scylla, along with hydras and polyps, appeared as they proceeded. Overall, there were not many, but still Katerei was quietly relieved that they were apparently dormant.

The walls of the tunnel began to change. Before they had been polished smooth, but now she began to see cracks in them. Jagged outcroppings thrust across their path, as though the earth itself had tried to block the path.

Finally, she saw the ground coming up beneath them. They seemed to have come to a dead-end, until she looked up. There was another opening much like the pool that they had entered through.

Katerei wondered how many hours had passed since then.

"Please take us up through there," Beorn requested.

It took some effort: forcing the bubble to rise was not as easy as allowing it to descend. Soon, however, they broke the surface and she dismissed the watery construct. The air was dry and stale but breathable to her vague surprise.

Easily, she stepped onto the ground next to the pool. Behind her, Beorn struggled out of the water, but Katerei couldn't bring herself to feel enough sympathy to help him. She looked about her and gasped. Nothing Beorn had mentioned about the undercities of the Seldane had brought home their scope and scale, even shown in the black and white vision granted by Beorn's spell.

As far as she could see in almost every direction, roads and buildings stretched away from her. All the buildings were made of stone, as was customary in Seldane architecture, but, unusually, many of them were not single-story. Many were huge, taller than any building (save perhaps Pnyx) that she had ever seen in Cythera. Others were small, more like the buildings she had heard of in Ayrit and other cities. Much of the ground seemed to have been paved, perhaps with the purple floor tiles used by the Seldane, but an earthen road had been left. Standing stone obelisks stood at intersections and beside various buildings.

On one side only did she see the wall of the cavern, far distant from where she now stood. The road ran on through it into a huge opening, the avenue leading to another of the great cities. As she looked, Katerei saw that structures climbed up the wall as well. She could see stairs, windows, and great towers stretching back and forth across the wall, climbing upward. Glancing in this direction, she saw the ceiling. In the gray light of her vision, she could not be sure, but she thought she saw buildings hanging down even from this area, like some sort of vast beehive.

But everywhere were signs of ruin, as though a vast tsunami had swept over this metropolis.

The roads were torn and broken. Walls were smashed through, buildings were crumbled, and the ground was cracked and shattered. Stones and boulders lay all about her. Many of the obelisks were damaged, and a number had been completely uprooted. Several had even been thrown, demolishing structures and fracturing the pavement. On the far earthen wall, Katerei could see that chunks had been torn from it. Towers had fallen and staircases had collapsed. As in the underwater tunnel, rock outcroppings had been raised at various points, as though to stem some sort of tide. Earthen walls of enormous size had also been erected, some in an orderly pattern and some in a haphazard, more desperate fashion. Parts of the ceiling had fallen. The arch through which the road led had partially collapsed.

"The battles over these caverns lasted for millennia in some cases. Often, the Seldane drove off the Undine and rebuilt their cities, thinking themselves secure. That proved to be an unwise assumption," Beorn said quietly, having come beside her. Startled, she glanced at him. He looked lost in thought for a moment but quickly gathered himself. "Come, the object we seek should be close. Be careful, the ground is most unsafe. There may also be other dangers: the Seldane did not leave all of their old cities unguarded."
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#52 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 18 September 2014 - 10:45 PM

Progress was slow. The ground, though the pavement and road remained intact in isolated sections, was as treacherous as Beorn had warned. Initially, Beorn seemed to struggle more with the rough terrain than Katerei, although she noticed that this difficulty soon disappeared. Carefully, sticking to the pavement which was somewhat less damaged than the road, they moved across the hazardous terrain.

Beorn was steering a course that seemed to lead deeper into the city. Soon, the cavern wall and the huge arch had vanished into the gloom behind them. The city had once been well-laid out and orderly. Now, it was strewn with rubble and debris. Still, even in its ruined state, it retained some of its prior order, enough to make it feel like a town of ghosts. Katerei found herself relieved to have Beorn's guidance. She had little doubt that one could easily get lost in this place.

Katerei's uneasiness grew as time passed. All about them, the massive city was silent, and, at times, she felt as though she stood on another world, one far removed from light and hope. Again she wondered how much time had passed since she had first entered the tunnels.

They passed through once-busy intersections. Sometimes, they went through areas where the buildings crowded close to the road, perhaps markets of a kind. Other areas were more open, almost like parks. All were now wrecked and deserted, devoid of life.

Beorn stopped, and Katerei saw that they had run into one of the earthen walls she had earlier noticed. Without speaking, Beorn turned to the right and, after proceeding for a short distance, entered a small stone structure.

Nervously, she glanced at the cracks in the walls and the partially collapsed roof before following him. Inside, there was little left. Fallen stones had obscured the floor, but she could see a collapsed wooden pallet in the corner. Beorn had paused to wait for her. Gesturing for her to follow, he began to climb a small staircase near the back of the building. Surprisingly, it seemed fairly intact and sturdy.

Emerging at the top, Katerei found herself in a small room.

A child's room, she thought to herself with a shudder, spying a much smaller wooden pallet lying broken and snapped in a dark corner. She spotted several other objects, perhaps toys, that lay scattered about in a mass of debris. Beorn didn't even pause. Instead, cautiously, he moved through the rubble-strewn floor toward the wall.

Katerei saw that a hole had been blasted in the wall of the building. Looking at it, she realized that it had also been punched through the larger earthen wall outside. This larger wall ran right next to the small house they now stood in.

Beorn carefully stepped into the hole in the fortifying wall and began to proceed along the opening. Katerei did the same. The walls of the hole were worn smooth, as though a river had once flown through it. After a minute, they came to the other side of the wall and looked down. It fell steeply down to the ground.

Beorn reached into a pocket on his cloak and pulled out a small rope. He began to draw a small rune on the ground, casting a spell as he did so. Placing one end of the rope in the middle of the rune, he tossed the other end down. Carefully, he pulled on it. The end placed in the middle of the rune held as firmly as though it had been tied.

"This should secure the rope until we descend," he explained. "Once we are down, I will remove the spell and hopefully be able to retrieve the rope. We are likely to need it again."

Without another word, he began to climb down. The rope did indeed hold and soon both of them stood on the ground once more. Beorn at first seemed to be unable to successfully remove the rope, but, finally, it came. Coiling it once more, he returned to its pouch, and their journey continued.

He began to take shortcuts through buildings as they proceeded, and they passed through what must have once been houses, businesses, places of recreation, schools, and various other structures. A few--very few--of the structures were surprisingly well-preserved, giving an illusion that the owners had just stepped out for a moment. Others were crumbled and broken by the onslaught that once struck them. At first, these sights relieved some of the monotony, but they quickly became depressing. Thinking of all the beings who had once dwelt here brought home the ruin and desolation all about her.

They encountered cracks and crevices in their path. Some they were able to leap across, others they had to take long detours around. Several times, they encountered more of the large earthen walls. Some of these they crossed using the tunnels the Undine had blasted through them. Others (generally the ones raised more irregularly) they climbed using the rope. A few of them could even be climbed. It was not an easy process and they were soon both covered in grime (to Katerei's strong distaste). Sometimes debris barred their path, but always Beorn seemed to know where he wanted to go and how to get there.

Katerei began to feel exhausted. She had not a good sleep since in days, not really since they had encountered the other Avatara…

Shoving that thought away, she focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Beorn too seemed on the verge of physical collapse but continued on his path. She wondered if he was able to do so out of sheer willpower or out of simple ignorance of the physical demands on his body. Whatever the case, she followed. She resisted the urge to suggest a stop to rest. She wanted to be out of this silent, dark pit. The thought of trying to sleep in it was simply unbearable.

Abruptly, Beorn paused and turned to examine a chasm in the ground.

Annoyed at the delay, Katerei came up beside him and opened her mouth to speak. She stopped, looking at the opening before them. It was not as a large as some of the others she had seen and upon examination looked less like a random opening and more like a holding cell of some kind. But from the signs whatever had been held here was gone now.

Gone recently.

"I feared this might be the case," Beorn said quietly. "I think that the golem has gone now, but we must finish our work and leave quickly."

"Golem?" she asked.

"Similar, perhaps, to the one you faced at the Judge's Castle in Cademia. Some were near the surface to serve as guards at various places. The Seldane used many in the elemental wars. Others were stored here for similar purposes and to serve as an army should the time come for them to take the offensive."

Katerei tensed and glanced about them.

"Is that what happened here? Did we waken a sentry?"

"No, I have taken care to avoid that. I suspect that my counterpart had something to do with this. Like myself, he is most probably aware of these creatures, although the Seldane thought them well-hidden and unknown to outsiders. Furthermore, he is probably familiar with the means of awakening and controlling them, at least to a degree."

Katerei pondered this information. She wasn't really surprised to learn that the Seldane had such creatures hidden away, but Beorn's casual knowledge of them and his certainty of controlling them was unsettling. Again, she heard Avatara's warnings.

"You mean he expected us to come here?" she asked, ignoring the urge to question why Beorn knew these things and of what use such knowledge might have been to him.

"Possibly. However, I suspect that he wakened these creatures before he ever approached you in Cademia and had another purpose in mind for them. He might have attempted to prepare this place, but, since he believed me dead, it is not likely (although not impossible) that he had time or motivation to take precautions that would hinder me. Moreover, it is unlikely that the object I seek would be of any practical use to him or to me, in most cases. Thus, it is to be hoped that it still here. In any case, we must check."

"And if you're wrong? If it is gone and we have wasted all this time?" Katerei questioned, not wanting to ponder the implications.

"Then, we shall have to try another method to repair the Amulet, a more time-consuming one that I would prefer to avoid."

She felt like she should ask for more details but could not bring herself to want to know anything. Instead, she changed the subject.

"If there are golems down here, can you control them?"

"Probably not, I would have reprogrammed the creatures after wakening them. He most probably did the same. Certainly, he would have done so after the one appeared in Cademia."

"You don't think he sent that one at us?"

"No, I can see no reason to do so. Come, the object we seek should be close and we must hurry. When he learns that I have contacted you (and he probably already has), he might deduce our destination. I do not think he has time to begin an extensive search, but there are other ways of finding objects down here."

Before she could reply, he hurried off, stumbling slightly in his weariness.

However, they soon came to another small building. This one was shaped like a square and was quite intact. The doors even still stood.

Beorn pushed against them, and they opened with a loud groan, echoing in the vast silence around them. The oppressive stillness quickly returned, almost as though it did not like being disturbed.

Entering, they found a small platform with several strange designs etched in it. On three sides, including that which contained the door, a stone table ran along the walls. Once it might have had objects upon it, perhaps a shop, but it was bare now and broken in many places. At the far wall, there was another door. It too stood open, and there seemed to be a faint purplish glow through it, the first real light that she had seen in some time. Still, for some reason, the sight of it only made her more uneasy.

"This might be called a blacksmith's shop, although it dealt mainly with crystals. The Seldane used them for many purposes. That platform served to alter their structures and to align their interiors, somewhat like a forge. I hope to use this platform to partially correct the misalignments within the crystals on the amulet. The mages at Pnyx have similar tools, but they are much too crude for our purposes." Beorn turned toward her. "There is a portal through that far door. The mechanics of such devices is enormously difficult, but I can probably adjust it to send us near our next destination. Close the doors and keep watch. We must be prepared to leave quickly."

With that, he headed into the distant room. Katerei closed the doors. She tried to lock them as best she could, using the shattered remnants of the locking mechanism. Finally, she resorted to shoving over as many of the broken stones as she could and barricading them. Then, she sat down next to one of the broken table fragments to watch. Soon, the flickering light began to change, waxing and waning.

I hate this place, she thought. There was no water, no sunlight, no moving airs. The whole place was filled with brooding silence, like a vast, darkened tomb. Her only company was a quiet, seemingly uncaring being, who was far more ancient than the world itself.

She found herself thinking of Avatara, remembering why she was here…she hardened her determination. Rallying, she fought to stay awake to watch.

Meanwhile, Beorn worked over the portal. As he had told Katerei, the mechanics were difficult, years beyond the understanding of the mages in Pnyx, but he had talked much with the Seldane themselves and learned much about these portals. Combined with his knowledge gathered from other worlds and other times, he believed that he should be able to place them close to his objective.

As he worked, he found that he was having trouble staying awake and focused. He found himself grimacing in annoyance. This mortal frame to which was confined had so many disadvantages. Still, he had suffered worse injuries and continued. His current condition would not stop him.

Beorn contemplated his plans. He was revealing more information than might be wise to Katerei, although he felt he had little choice in that regard. He needed her help and he could no longer trust his own counsel. He could not help but feel that he was repeating his mistakes. Using the same long-range planning and manipulation that had gotten them all into this situation. Beorn considered this fact. He was taking far more wild risks than usual, with only very dismal chances even if he should succeed. Still, his methods were not necessarily so dissimilar to his customary ones.

It was not a new argument. He had had it many times over the years with himself and with others (both allies and enemies). Still, if his counterpart should escape and Cythera fall, all creation might be in danger…because of him. He had worked for eons to minimize casualties from the various conflicts that he had participated in. He had quickly learned that events in one world often influenced those in others. Furthermore, something that might save more lives in the short term might cost more in the longterm. Unfortunately, Beorn had also found that most mortals could not be convinced of these facts nor could they really understand them. He had learned to plan ahead and on a broad scale--and to be careful what he told others. Often, he had found himself manipulating people or allowing horrendous events to occur. Despite this, he still did not believe that the ends completely justified the means. Beorn tried to live within his own code of ethics, although he admitted that he and others probably would not agree about his success or lack thereof.

Now, all of his work was endangered, and he found himself forced to question his means. He had gone through such moments before, although not usually under such extreme conditions. Always, it came back to this: his methods were flawed but so were all others that he could think of. If he did not act, people would die. He might make an error, but he had to try and he could only do the best he could. Always, he could see no alternative but to continue, having hopefully learned something from his mistakes.

Finally, he completed his work. Now, the portal should take them where they needed to go. Beorn bent over the ground and begin to prepare another spell. He could not take the chance they would be followed. When they had both gone through the portal, this new spell would ensure its disintegration, preventing any risk of pursuit.

With difficulty, he rose and headed back into the far room. To his surprise, Katerei was still awake, guarding the doors.

Good, he thought. They had very little time, in all probability.

Carefully, he pulled out the Amulet of the Dead and set it on the platform. Immediately, the symbols on the platform changed. Now, the crystalline structure of the gems on the Amulet was displayed, although not in any language or mode known to most Cytheran mages. Beorn himself had some difficulty deciphering it. The damage appeared extensive, but a partial repair did appear possibly. Concentrating his magic on the platform, he begin to focus on correcting the realignments in the Amulet. This endeavor was dangerous as well…if successful, a dangerous artifact would be restored and would undoubtedly pose a threat in the future.

He was soon working hard. His knowledge of magic was extensive but his ability to wield it was still new (one of the few benefits of his current condition).

"Beorn," Katerei whispered, almost startling him out of his work. She had been nearly silent, but the sound seemed to reverberate in the room.

He glanced at her, and she pointed at the door.


For a moment, he paused. He heard nothing…then, a faint whisper of sound.

The city was dead and empty aside from the two of them. That sound could only mean one thing.

"Head for the portal. Wait for me there. I have taken measures to ensure that we will not be pursued."

Even as he spoke, the faint noise came again. Then, something slammed into the door. After so long in the silence, the noise was practically deafening. It was repeated immediately. Something--or several somethings--by the sounds were trying to break through the doors.

Katerei hurried back into the other room. Beorn continued with his task. As he worked, the din increased as more pressure was put on the doors. The broken locks crumbled, but the barricade still stood for a moment…

He finished as best as he could. It was only a partial repair, but it should work.

Turning, he ran toward the far room. As he reached it, he yanked the inner door shut. Even as he did so, the outer door finally collapsed completely.

"Come," he told Katerei, who stood next to the portal.

Without hesitation, they both dove into the portal, even as the inner door opened behind them.
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#53 User is offline   Two Jacks 

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 10:12 PM


Dry, dusty and deep were the caverns the Seldane had left behind. Every footstep and word bounced off the old walls into eternity. Scry sat on stone, smooth and round. The fire's smoke filled the chamber, and of course the sulfuric scent of Athes was unmistakable. Twice she had been wandering the corridors and fooled into thinking a lava flow had broken through the rock, only to find the demon lurking around the corner.

The sound of a man was near the fire. It was Firecat and it was not. His smell was a stranger's, but his mind...

Sage laughed. You're right. The words came unbidden into Scry's head, and without sound.

Footsteps trickled in from the south. It was the others; journeyed from the other world. Scry did not dwell long on this other world. Thoughts of what could have been were strong, and she did not want to trouble Firecat with her worries.

“Sage.” The one named Avatara spoke. His voice was aggressive, stubborn. A young man's voice. He and his companions entered the fire's ring.

Sage rose to meet them. “Honored guests, please.”

Only one sat, the one that smelled of death and decay.

“Or... stand as you like.” Sage continued.

“I thought we were clear the last time we met, we don't wish to help you.” Avatara stated.

“Oh you were; quite. Yet here we are, helping each other.” Sage's stride made the sound of grinding as he walked over the sandy stone floors towards his guests. “And now, after my elaborate ruse with my kindly demon, are you still not convinced of my intentions?” Sage knelt and placed a hand on the floor. “Simply feel the ground. The heat you feel was not there long ago. The world is already a half-way finished puzzle now.”

“And?” The woman spoke now. She smelt clean, and different from other women Scry had met. Maybe she was not one at all. “What difference does it make? Do you realize what's happening to the two worlds?”

“All too well, my blue beauty. But tell me, do you? Truly?” Sage asked, rising to his feet.

Katerei was silent.

“Ha!” The dead one laughed, “Give me one moment, and I'll let you know!” Scry heard the uncommon sound of pages being flipped through rapidly.

“No need.” Sage spoke, “Once upon a time, in this world, the Land King died and soon after ,the elementals with him. That is why you see this world is in such a sorry state, and why no Seldane are present here to keep us company.”

“And how do you suppose you'll fix that? Setting off volcanoes?” Avatara questioned.

“Did dear Athes not tell you?”

The demon smoldered. “I gave them your words. Your words they did not like.” Scry liked the crackle in Athes' voice; it was almost cute to her now.

“We... got the gist of it.” Katerei admitted. “Something about the elements, and beacons. We placed that jewel Athes gave us into a strange device at the volcano.”

“Yes, and then the beacon nearly lit us up with it.” Avatara finished.

“I prefer the term, lighthouse. Isn't it nice? They light the way for us! Once we light them of course.” Sage took a seat by the fire. “By igniting these lighthouses, we breath life back into the elements that form the foundation of this Cythera... and in turn the other. It is no accident the two have been joined, just as it was no accident how the Land King died.” Firecat in a stranger's skin turned to the three others. “I know chaos is breaking loose and new threats are appearing faster than you three can kill them, but my work seeks to end all of that. Bring back the elements with me, and undermine everything your enemies are working towards.”


The cavern fell silent as it could. Scry listened to the crackling of the flames, and Athes' crackly, heavy breaths; someone rubbed their head.

“Fine.” Said the young man. “I'll agree to help you.”

“Excellent!” Sage clapped his hands together, “Now-”

“Not so fast.” Avatara interjected, “I will help you now, but know that as soon as I see any threat of betrayal, I will kill you, the demon, and that blind assassin.”

“Even if it means killing this one?” Sage placed Yomu's hands around his neck.

“That's my other condition. We won't help you unless you release Yomu. He's not yours to puppet.”

HAHAHAHAHA. The laughter came bursting into Scry's head, and from the sound of his snarl, in Athes' too.

“Do you know what you ask?” Sage's voice was different now: chilling, less of a strangers'. “Do not think that if I leave this body, for even an instant, it won't die. And can you fathom why? Because you and your little friends let Yomu die back at Land King Hall, and now the only thing between him and the void is me. So tell me. Do you really care for this man, or are you just trying to finish him off?”

Avatar stomped forward only to be halted suddenly. Athes was already two steps towards him but it was the woman that stopped the aggressive young man.

“Wait!” She yelled at him.

“Why? So he can wait for us to die and use us as puppets too? We should end this now.” Avatara's hand found the hilt of his blade.

“No, he's right.” Katerei continued, staying his hand, “Something hasn't been right about Yomu, or at least his body. I noticed it when we first saw... him again in the other Cythera.” Katerei took her hand off Avatara, her voice became shy. “I sense Yomu, at least it's like he's here but then he's not here. It's as if he is... trying to wake up. I think if Sage does release him now, he may not be able to find his way back to us.”

Avatara turned away from her, stepping towards Sage instead. “Fine! Keep him for now, but once this is over and done you will release him or-”

“Yes, yes. Have a blade run head to toe. I'm glad you've decided to be so... reasonable. Now, as to the plan...”

Scry listened to the stranger talk, and the others listen. She quieted her mind and let her visions pour in. She saw the future, every possible outcome, until one (the true reality) became clear: This time Athes would be the one staying behind; to help Sage reach the retrieve the last elemental star. No! Scry felt useless. Had she not done well enough in the lighthouse in Aryit? If she had, then why would Firecat be sending her with the others. All the way to the damned Cult of Scylla. It wasn't fair. Just a useless little blind brat. The words were strong; loud. Just a useless little blind brat. She thought, and thought, and thought, until the thoughts overwhelmed the vision, and pushed at the sides of her head. The aches came quickly and fierce. She nearly screamed, though just as always, the kind voice of Firecat was soon whispering in, taking her away from the pain, away from memory's bright yellow flames.

This post has been edited by Two Jacks: 04 October 2014 - 12:34 AM

#54 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 02 October 2014 - 02:42 AM

Avatara held back as the others left the room. Off in the corner, Sage studied some parchment, pretending he wouldn't overhear anything Avatara was about to say, but that didn't matter. Avatara focused instead on the blind woman sitting impassively in front of him.

"Why you?"

"Because I have the key." She didn't move.

"You could hand it to someone else."

Scry lifted her head. She couldn't see, and her red scarf hid whatever gruesome disfigurement was behind her condition, but Avatara felt a tingling at the back of his neck, as if he was being watched and measured. "Am I...inadequate?"

"Where is your angry bald friend?" To his surprise, she visibly recoiled from that.

" longer have a need for him now," she said quietly with a shudder.

Avatara tempered the edge in his voice, "How will you be able to keep up? We'll be traveling through wild undergrowth."

The anxiety on her face vanished and her tone became firm. "Do not concern yourself over me. I will pull my own weight." With that, Scry returned her attention back to her thoughts and ignored him until he left.

Avatara lingered in the doorway long enough to see her relax when Sage touched her shoulder, if a taut bowstring could be said to relax. Leaving the two alone, Avatara turned towards his room but stopped when he saw who was waiting for him.

"Come," Athes' voice boomed. The demon straightened from leaning back against a stone column. "I have something for you to see." He beckoned with a clawed hand, then without waiting for a response, strode off. Away from the portal room. Away from the others. Away from any light.

Avatara paused a moment to summon a small orb of light in his palm, grinding his teeth over how even this simple spell took an immense effort, before hurrying to catch up. Athes didn't break stride, didn't look back, but Avatara thought he heard the demon snort derisively at his pitiful ball of light. The glow barely illuminated a dozen paces, just enough to make out the nearby wall and the giant pillars lining the center of the hall. Several columns from Sage's room the pillars abruptly stopped and the wall vanished. It took a moment for Avatara to realize they had exited the building and he almost slipped on air as the floor became a short flight of stairs.

Four large marble steps and the marble gave way to natural rock. There were no shapes in the darkness, but the air hung heavy and damp, as if they were in an enormous underground cavern. Avatara followed behind the demon, boots crunching the untouched sediment as they wound through the city. Each step took him further away from help in case Athes sought to kill him.

Another set of four large steps materialized out of the gloom ahead. The two of them climbed the stairs to a platform made of a strange purple tile, a material Avatara thought he recognized from elsewhere on the island. The platform stretched out in front of them, forming a giant cross. In the center stood four marble pillars ringing another small set of stairs that descended to...nothing. As they drew closer, Avatara saw the lowest step framed the square pit, but below the bottom of the stair, there was nothing. The light from his orb did not penetrate the black emptiness in the center, and he had no desire to actually descend the steps.

"What is this?" Avatara asked, stepping back. The sheer emptiness of the pit was unnerving.

"This was a window to the void," Athes replied, his voice making clear that he did not want to explain.

"You could access the void from here?"

"Your king's place is better. More control there."

Avatara picked up a loose rock and threw it at an angle. The rock bounced once on the lower step before vanishing from sight. No sound came back. "So, this is why Selax couldn't enter the void."

"You see now how the world is broken?"

"And restoring the pillars will fix this?" Avatara mused. "But then, why couldn't Selax fix it himself?"

"Perhaps he did not have the key." Athes bared his teeth in one of those ugly demon grins.

"Just where did you get those orbs anyway? And, why now? Why couldn't you..." Something clicked into place in his mind. "Selax couldn't restore the elemental pillars because he killed off the elements. There was no power left to restore them. Which means...this power came from the other Cythera!" Avatara turned to face Athes. "Won't this break that world?"

"I'm sure they won't notice this much missing." Athes narrowed his gaze. "But why do you care?"

Avatara didn't reply. There was something more to this than merely restoring balance of the elements, but they had a deadline and this was their only lead. Even Rapierian had confirmed powering all of the pillars would be enough to sever the portal between worlds, though he was exceptionally vague about the details. But, they had promised the others two weeks and almost half of that time had already been used up.

Why do I care? It was not like he had any attachment to the other world. Perhaps it would give the others a means to stop Selax, but even that didn't seem important anymore. There had to be another reason...

"Take me back," Avatara said, shaking off his thoughts. There was no time for distractions now.
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
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#55 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 01:05 PM


This is turning out to be exceedingly dull, Rapierian thought to himself.

Scry had stayed with Sage in the room in which they had spoken, and Avatara had disappeared with Athes into the darkness. Katerei might have gone back to her room or she might have followed them. The necromancer didn't really care.

He had not returned to the room set aside for him, preferring instead to examine the ruins outside. "Conveniently," his meanderings had taken him near enough to hear Avatara's quiet conversation with Athes. While he found the action of eavesdropping somewhat entertaining, it was not enough to truly amuse him. Still, it gave him time to contemplate.

The necromancer was idly amused that no one had asked his opinion on what to do about Yomu, but it meant he was losing out on a potential bit of fun. Of course, it also showed that they trusted him about as much or even less than they trusted Sage.

Athes was a potential target for fun. In some ways, the blunt, ill-tempered daemon reminded him of Shanadar. After chortling at that notion for a minute, Rapierian pondered how best to get rise out of the daemon then shrugged. He'd figure it out soon.

Scry was interesting to him. There was a strange magic about her, one that he would greatly like to know more about. He had noted her seeming reliance on Sage. Perhaps he could use that against her later. At least, it might help him determine what she was capable of.

Still, even though he had high hopes of later getting more than entertainment to justify his trip, he was bored at the moment…and that was really unacceptable.

What to do, what to do, he mused.

At that moment, Avatara seemed to finish his conversation with Athes and, after a pause--Probably got lost even with the daemon's directions, Rapierian mused--headed back toward the building, while the daemon vanished into the deeper shadows.

The necromancer waited until Avatara was passing him.

"Well, that was boring and uninformative," he said cheerfully.

Avatara paused for a moment before continuing.

"You sure are trusting fellow," Rapierian said, causing him to stop again. "Why I think you trust that fellow more than me. Sad really. I have a such an honest face!"

Stopping, Avatara muttered, "Why don't you take your 'honest face' and go back to where you came from?"

The necromancer considered the question.

"A very, very good question. One that has a very, very good answer. But I'd hate to kill the suspense. Besides, you seem like a man in need of friends."

"Really?" Avatara rounded on him. "The sort of friend who leaves you in a tough spot?"

Rapierian contrived to look innocent.

"Whatever do you mean?" he asked.

"You left us in that volcano and almost got us killed," Avatara said flatly. "So far, you've been nothing but trouble."

"I left you directions," the necromancer replied idly. "It's not my fault that you didn't think twice before fiddling with the pedestal--" He paused and sighed dramatically. "Wait, you're right. It is my fault. I overestimated your intelligence."

For a moment, a flash of irritation appeared on Avatara's face, cheering Rapierian greatly.

"Oh, this should be amusing," he chortled. "Will you incinerate me with a fireball?"

The comment served to give Avatara pause.

"Ah, yes. I'm well aware of your magical difficulties. Look on the bright side: you can always blame them for your failure to realize something was wrong with Yomu."

"I suppose you knew that and just didn't tell anyone?" Avatara asked.

"Well, I thought it might be an improvement," Rapierian replied, managing to contain his laughter. "Besides, it's not like anyone thought to ask my opinion on what to do with him."

"I think I'd trust Sage with him over you," Avatara replied.

"Really? That's all the thanks I get for getting rid of the guardian in the Volcano?" the necromancer sighed. "Such gratitude."

"Nice story," Avatara scoffed, turning away from him. "Too bad you're a pathological liar."

"Yeah, it really is," Rapierian sighed. "A pathological liar who guided you to the pillar, which you else would have taken some time to find. A pathological liar who has some idea of what is coming--and you need all the knowledge you can get. A pathological liar whose magical powers are just fine, unlike yours. A pathological liar who is no more a friend of Sage than I am of you, making me one of your few potential allies if things should go wrong--and you know they probably will." He smiled happily. "A pathological liar whom you still need."

Avatara considered him, and the necromancer supposed the man was considering if he could remove Rapierian then and there. Evidently, he didn't completely agree with Rapierian's assessment of the situation.

Then, seeming to reach some internal conclusion, he turned and walked away.

Behind him, Rapierian, now much cheered up, began to laugh, his mad cackle echoing through the empty city, ringing in Avatara's ears.


Rapierian had pressed on alone. Now by himself, the ranger had decided to take a riskier approach and cut directly through the pass. He knew that, if it was not strongly guarded, it was at least closely watched and he was expected, but he gotten through the Hand's surveillance before and hoped he could so again.

Still, it had been slower going than he had hoped. Taking extraordinary caution, he had been forced to leave his mount and go slowly through the pass.

Thus, what should have been a one day trip--from where Katerei had left him--had taken him two days before he finally reached Pnyx.

The ranger had not expected a positive reception and he had not been disappointed. He had letters from Shanadar and he knew that previous messages had confirmed his existence had already been revealed to the mages at Pnyx. Still, he found himself confined to a small guest room--which, he supposed, was better than a holding cell--and told to wait until the master mages decided whether or not he was fit to speak to.

Sitting on the bed, the ranger wondered how close he had come to being like his counterpart and shuddered.

Elsewhere, Katerei landed in something wet and cold, bathed in a blinding light.

After so long in the dark, lifeless undercity, the transition was jarring. For some time, she simply sat, blinking as her eyes tried to adjust.

Finally, her vision cleared enough for her to see her surroundings. She was sitting in a bank of snow, high in the mountains with the bright sun shining overhead. For a moment, she sat, rejoicing in the light, the cold, and the wind--rejoicing in feeling alive again.

For a moment, she could pretend everything was right with the world.

Then, Beorn rose out of the snow in front of her, ruining the moment and bringing her back to reality.

"Come," he said. "There is a place nearby where we can rest."

Without waiting, he staggered off down the slope. Seeing him stumble, Katerei was reminded of her own weariness and hastened to follow him.

In a few minutes, they came to a small cave, its entrance hidden in a small hollow. It was not large, but it offered some shelter from the cold and snow. Both were too weary to think about setting a watch, hoping that they might remain unnoticed for a time.

Beorn settled himself back in a dark corner, seeming to take no notice of the hard, rock floor. Soon, his breathing was steady, and he was apparently asleep.

Katerei lay near the entrance, looking out at the snow-covered hollow and wondering how she could ever sleep.

Hours later, their journey continued. They had slept most of the day away and had awakened long after night had fallen.

Beorn had briefly told Katerei the history of the "allies" he hoped to "recruit." He had seen the look of horror and pity in her eyes as he spoke. He had anticipated some risk in this venture. Katerei was more likely to stay with him if he did not try obvious deceptions, so the truth was important. In any case, he had had little alternative in his actions: he had had to do as he did and he had tried to avoid the unfortunate outcome as much as he could. He suspected that Katerei did not completely disagree with him on the first point, but she probably did not agree with his second conclusion and certainly not with his current plan.

Still, when he had risen to leave, she had reluctantly followed him. Beorn noted that she had spoken little since leaving the undercity, appearing to become even more withdrawn, but her desire to learn of Avatara's fate continued to drive her…for now, at least.

He had made an effort to place them near the resting place of the undead he sought and had been reasonably successful, leaving them with no more than an hour's journey.

They stuck to concealment as much as possible and used no torches. A few lights appeared on the plain to east where the city of Cademia lay. Katerei glanced wistfully at the city before following Beorn through the low foothills and sparse woodlands.

Finally, they came to a dreary clearing and stopped.

Beorn was already wearing the Amulet under his cloak where it could not easily be seen. Now, he placed a ring on his finger. As he did so, he noticed additional scarring on the hand and internally frowned. This result was expected but not optimal.

Quickly, he went to the center of the clearing and began to dig. After a few minutes, he unearthed a small cylindrical object. Pressing a button on one end, he tucked into his cloak. It had been risky to bring this device to Cythera, but it had been useful. Perhaps, it would prove to be so again in the future.

Beorn stepped back to the edge of the clearing and waited next to Katerei.

Presently, the ground at his feet began to shift and shudder. Three other spots in the clearing soon followed suit, and the sounds of frantic digging and thrashing began to be heard.

Suddenly, a decaying, skeletal hand thrust its way through the earth, almost catching Katerei's dress. With a startled cry, she dodged away from it. Beorn leaned down, grabbed the hand, and pulled. A figure--a woman--emerged from the ground, letting go of Beorn's hand as though it burnt and clutching now at the edges of her grave with both hands.

The half-buried woman stared up at them with a stunned expression in her reddened eyes and on her shriveled face, surrounded by cracked, brittle hair that might once have been a vibrant brown. Her clothes were tattered and old. Her flesh was corpse-gray and rotten. She tried to speak but choked on dirt and only managed a moan, a sound which clearly came from long unused vocal cords.

Around the clearing, other hands were thrust to the surface and other figures began to dig themselves free of their graves, but Beorn ignored them for the moment and directed his words to the woman, who was still trying to talk.

"We have much to discuss, Persephone."
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#56 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 06:01 PM

Somewhere between death and undeath, Persephone drifted.

She knew she should have been dead: she had certainly been killed enough times. Still, she felt her curse nagging her, urging her to rise once more.

But she couldn’t.

Whenever she reached out, trying to return to her body, something blocked her, kept her from returning fully to the physical realm.

So she drifted, lost somewhere beyond time and space.

She could almost have mistaken it for the peace of death if it were not for the curse, if not for the wrongness she felt.

At least, she had time to remember, although she could never decide if that was a blessing or a curse.

"Foolish children. Attempting to steal this crystal carries a curse. You will know no rest until you succeed in obtaining it. Unfortunately for you, I cannot allow you to do that."

That was what the creature had said the first time. They had taken the crystal and turned to find it in the doorway behind them, having come so soundlessly that not even Sisyphus had seen it until too late.

They had fought then. There was a reason her team had been so widely regarded as a mercenary squad.

They had fought and lost. They had injured the monster that first time, but its skill with a blade—combined with its furious speed and strength—had been too much.

“This battle is without purpose. Surrender and I might be able to help you.”

That was what it had said the next few times.

Driven by their curse, they hadn’t listened. Besides, who would trust their killer?

Eventually, it had given up offering to aid them. Instead, it had opted to kill them in the fastest, most efficient manner possible.

This it had proceeded to do, slaughtering them in seconds again and again, always in the exact same way.

Until the last time, when it had stopped and stood over her for a moment.

“I have been unable to find a method to release you from your curse. Unfortunately, I must put you to sleep for a time until I can find some method to aid you.”

Then, it had killed her again.

When next she had tried to rise, she had found herself in this condition, left trapped with her own thoughts.

How much time has passed? she wondered. What had happened to her son?

Something changed: the block that had so long hindered her was suddenly gone.

She felt herself drawn by the curse back to her body. For the first time in what must have been years, Persephone struggled to free herself of the ground.

She got a hand free…and almost drew it back when another hand—a warm, living hand—caught it and pulled it, yanking her upper body above the earth.

Her vision swam as her bleary, dried eyes tried to focus. Finally, two figures began to emerge. A man—whose most salient feature was his utter lack of expression—and a woman—who was blue with pointed ears. Her expression was one of horror and pity.

Her first thought was that she had finally gone mad. Her next thought was to wonder how much time had passed. Finally, she wondered who these people were and how they had found her.

Persephone tried to speak but only managed a rasping groan.

“Persephone, we have much to discuss,” the man said calmly.
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#57 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 19 April 2015 - 05:25 PM

“Who are you?” the woman managed to gasp.

Beorn replied, “In the past, you refused my help: I offer you one more chance to accept it.”

Her eyes widened in shock and recognition. Terrified, she shrank back into her grave.


Then, there was a flurry of movement.

The woman clutched at her mouldering staff, trying to pull it free. Behind her, three other undead had torn themselves out of the ground and they now surged forward. One, a huge giant of a man with an ugly neck wound, charged with a bellow, wielding an axe. Another smaller man—a rogue perhaps, armed with a sword and with a pair of daggers belted at his waist—circled trying to get behind Beorn and Katerei. The third, an archer, apathetically readied an arrow.

Beorn raised his hand and all motion ceased. Each of the undead was frozen in place.

Persephone strained with effort, trying vainly to move a muscle or even to blink.

“What—? What are you doing to us?” she screamed in fury. “Haven’t you done enough already?!”

“Your condition is borne out of your own actions. This is not a negotiation—armed or otherwise,” Beorn answered calmly. “I am making you an offer. If you accept, I will allow you a chance to end your curse without my interference. If you refuse, your curse will almost certainly never end.”

Our actions?” the rogue snarled. “You killed us!”

“Preventing you from completing a course of action that would have doomed humanity in this world: had you succeeded, your families would have died, as a direct result of your actions,” Beorn countered, still showing no trace of emotion. “Now, your descendants still live.”

“…descendants?” the magess asked brokenly. Then, her anger returned. “…how long? How long?”

“Seven hundred and eighty-six years have passed since our last encounter,” Beorn explained. While the undead were processing this information, he went on. “Here is my offer: aid me for a time and I shall tell where the Seal is now located. I will not interfere in your efforts to obtain it.”

“You want us to help you? Help you?” Persephone laughed, a hideous braying sound that made Katerei want to cover her ears. “You took our lives! Our families! Our humanity! Everything!

“As I said, your actions led you to this pass. You acted in ignorance as to your employers’ true nature, true; however, you acted all the same.”

“Right, and I’m just sure we can trust you,” the rogue said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “If the Seal were really that important, why let us go after it now? You could have let us have it any time.”

“The danger present in your completion of your quest has not faded. Unfortunately, other dangers now take priority and you are among the last resorts available to me. We have no more time now for discussion or debate” Then, Beorn stepped forward. “You lack any real choice in this matter: the control I am exerting over you now can be extended indefinitely. However, if you refuse, I shall instead return you to your slumber. I will make no effort to release you from your curse in the future. You will lose your last chance—faint though it may be—to finally free yourselves.”

“You seriously think we want your help?” Persephone retorted, still trying to move her frozen limbs.

“I consider that to mean you have refused my offer,” Beorn said. Then, he gestured and the undead began to head back toward their graves.

“Wait!” Persephone screamed.

Beorn paused. As he had anticipated, the curse upon the undead compelled them take any chance of ending it.

“Give us a moment to talk it over,” the magess pleaded, hoping for a moment to come up with a plan to ambush Beorn and wrest his source of control away from him.

Beorn was not fooled.

“No, this is not a negotiation. Will you aid me?”

“Why not?” the archer said, speaking for the first time. “It’s not like it matters.”

“Prometheus has a point. It’s not like we have a lot left to lose,” the rogue said warily.

The giant said nothing, looking instead at the magess.

Persephone hesitated.

“Fine,” she whispered eventually. “But you have to let us go. And no tricks: you tell us where the Seal is and let us get it.”

“As long you aid me and do not attempt betrayal, I have no intention of controlling you or of violating my part of our arrangement.”

With that, it was like a set of invisible strings had snapped. The undead all sagged, suddenly free to move once more. Cautiously, they glanced at one another. They had no trust in Beorn at all and had little intention of aiding him, but, as long as he could control them, they had no choice but to play along…for now.

“So…what do you want?” Persephone snapped.
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#58 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 08 August 2015 - 12:51 AM

A hot bath and a bed. That was what Avatara wanted most right now.

He was in a cold, damp tunnel. His clothes still stank of smoke and his hair was greased with ash from their escapade at the volcano yesterday. The three - no, four of them now - were off to a temple long abandoned by crazy scylla worshippers on a reckless errand that he wasn't even sure would work. But the worst part of it all was the silence. Everyone seemed content to sulk in silence and pretend the others didn't exist.

He wiped the grime from his hands onto his pants and then turned to help Scry. She ignored him and cleared the four foot drop with hardly a sound, just the wind from her robes rushing by. She didn't even stop to wait for the others, nor the light source, forging ahead on her own.

Katerei's figure came into view above. "Need help?" he asked, offering her a hand. She glanced down the tunnel ahead then hopped down on her own, nearly losing her balance upon landing. He reached out to help steady her but she shrugged him off, adjusted her pack, and continued on. The pale blue orb hovering in front of her illuminated her outline for a moment until the tunnel turned and she stormed out of sight.

"What's gotten into her?" Avatara muttered.

"Maybe you should be asking the opposite question," Rapierian replied, appearing above with a torch. "Aren't you going to offer me a hand?"

"Hold up a minute," Avatara said, watching until the blue glow faded from sight. "What do you think of all this?"

"Which part? Stealing energy from one world to try and save another? Helping the creature that possessed your companion? Mucking around in the dark? I rather like it down here myself. Nobody around to make a sound...or hear a scream." The necromancer laughed, a harsh sound that echoed in the enclosed environment.

"That first one. And keep your voice down!"

"I think there is more to this than our 'host' let on."

"That much I know. What does your book say about all this?"

"That you are a fool for trusting anyone other than yourself." Rapierian gripped the ledge and lowered himself down.

"And Scry? What should I do about her?"

"Since when do people come to me for relationship advice?"

Avatara glared at him.

He shrugged. "What, you didn't see that one coming?"

It was definitely time to go back to pretending the necromancer didn't exist.
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
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#59 User is offline   iKaterei 

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Posted 08 August 2015 - 03:15 AM

Rock, rock and more rock. People weren't meant to be underground like this – in the dark, breathing stale air, with immeasurable tons of stone weighing down overhead. K had barely slept the night before. She spent most of it staring up at the shadowy roof, her mind split between the aching awareness of Avatara's presence nearby and the constant fear of Ayrit collapsing on them.

The caves were probably filthy, but it was hard to tell, as covered in soot and grime as she already was. Her long blue hair, once arrow-straight and silky, was dull and tangled. Water dripped into pools here and there around Ayrit, but trying to bathe seemed like more effort than it was worth. It wasn't like Avatara was looking at her anyway.

Things didn't get much better once they were moving. The only improvement was leaving two of their 'companions' behind. Sage unnerved her, like there was something crawling across her skin every time he looked at her. Athes mostly just smelled bad. Now, they only had to deal with the ever-annoying Rapierian – and Scry.

K felt bad for her, in a way. She'd heard enough of Iannah taunting Kain to gather what kind of a life Scry must have led with him. It wasn't all that surprising that she would change allegiances, though siding with Sage hardly ranked higher in K's mind. Sympathy still didn't warrant trust.

Worse than that, Avatara was always watching Scry, like she was a fledgling bird that would stray from the nest without guidance. You're embarrassing yourself, Av, K thought as the woman ignored his offer to help her down a ledge. She watched from above as Scry strode past him into the darkness.

Avatara glanced up and held out a hand. "Need help?"

K was grateful for the dim light as her cheeks flushed. Her ankle still ached from twisting it in the volcano, but she wasn't about to be shown up by a blind woman. She only regretted her decision slightly when she landed on the solid rock. She hurried off before he saw the look of pain that twisted her face.

Dead weight. The words echoed in her head. She'd gotten so used to thinking of herself that way since returning to their Cythera that it was easy to give into it. If it meant having a reason to lean on Avatara once in awhile, all the better. But Scry's presence was like having a barometer follow her around, and the swordswoman set a very high standard.

Her blue ball of light bobbed along in front of her, lighting up the jagged walls. She heard faint voices behind her, then a jarring laugh, and wondered what the two men had to discuss in private. Whatever, she thought sullenly. Let them have their secrets. I have enough of mine.

K rounded a bend and saw Scry standing by a pool of cloudy water. It covered the left half of the tunnel, the stagnant surface perfectly smooth. She drew close to the other woman with a frown. "What's wrong?"

Scry stared straight ahead. She was silent for a moment, staying perfectly still as if she was listening to something only she could hear. Then she said, "Thank you."

"What for?"

She gestured at the pool. "If I try to drink this water, you will tell me not to."

K narrowed her eyes as she looked at the red scarf tied around the woman's face. "What makes you think so?"

"It is contaminated."

A chill crept over K's skin. "Yes. It's full of toxic minerals that have probably been leaching out of the rock for years. You'd get sick in a few hours. But… how did you know that?"

"How did you?"

"I'm a water mage. I can sense the impurities."

Scry turned to her. "Ah. I thought I recognized you," she said slowly. "You fought on Iannah's side, in the other world's Cademia."

K drew in a sharp breath. "How do you know that was me? There's plenty of other water mages around."

"Your voice, gait, other things." Scry tilted her head. "You still smell like volcano, but under that you are… clean. Sterile. Like you have scrubbed away everything that makes you, you. I have only seen that once before – in Cademia."

K pressed her lips together. She knew exactly what the woman meant. One of the pockets lining her sash held a tiny bundle of herbs that numbed the nostrils, just enough to mask the scent of all the other herbs from anyone who got too close. It was one of the many tricks she came up with to survive as an assassin. Scry was the only one to ever recognize her by a lack of recognition.

More than that, it felt like veiled criticism. Poisonous herbs weren't the only thing K was hiding. Avatara was blind to everything she kept locked away in dark corners… but Scry knew too much. Saw too much. The woman had only been with them for a day and K was already sick of her.

"Something wrong?" Avatara said as he and Rapierian caught up.

"No," K said flatly. She'd tell him the truth soon. Just not here, not now, not in front of the other two. "Don't drink that water," she added before stalking off.

#60 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 13 August 2015 - 05:06 PM

At the base of the mountains south of Cademia, Katerei sat with her back against the cool stones, gazing dully at the forest around them. After Beorn’s brief—and not very explanatory as far as Katerei had been able to tell—explanation to the undead, they had spent the rest of the night and the better part of the next day moving cautiously toward the portal to the other Cythera. Beorn had made the undead travel spread out around them, in view but out of earshot. Still, he had told Katerei he was certain they’d find some means to communicate with each other and plan some sort of betrayal.

That information had not been very comforting.

Now they were close to the portal, but Beorn, planning to complete the journey under cover of darkness, had stopped for a brief rest. The undead were in the trees nearby keeping guard. They were out of sight, but she bitterly supposed Beorn had already thought of how to keep them contained. Beorn sat nearby. His breathing was regular, but she didn’t know if that meant he was actually asleep.

She stared out into the gloom. Beorn had only spoken briefly about what they might expect to find the next day; however, it had not escaped her notice that he had taken it for granted that there was good chance they would not survive. He had seemed unconcerned about the possibility, and Katerei was only mildly surprised to find that she hardly cared herself.

If she lost this one chance to find out what had happened to Avatara, she even thought that dying might be preferable.

Beorn stirred suddenly.

“We should continue,” he said quietly standing. “We should reach the gateway within the hour.”

Out in the woods, Persephone stood, waiting, thinking. The others were nearby, but Beorn—as the creature had called itself—had again kept them separated. Indeed, in spite of his promise not to control their actions, he had carefully placed restrictions upon them for the night, preventing them from speaking to one another or from attempting to attract attention that might reveal their journey to any watchers.

Not that she really had any idea from whom he was attempting to hide.

She and her friends still had very little idea what was going on. Beorn had not explained much, perhaps not trusting them with too much information or correctly guessing that they didn’t care very much.

The magess had been shocked and disoriented by the knowledge that they had been entombed for centuries, but then she had realized: what did it matter? They were already dead…who cared for how long they had been so.

Abruptly, she thought of her son. He must have been long dead. She hoped he’d had a good life and a clean death. Most of all she hoped that he’d been able to move past her disappearance and had never learned of her fate.

Beorn claimed that her child’s descendants still lived—that this current task of theirs would ensure that continued to be the case. He might even have been telling the truth. Persephone wanted to care and, perhaps, she did.

It didn’t really matter though. If working with Beorn were truly the only way to save the world, she still doubted she could bring herself to trust him enough to cooperate with him. It was the curse and the hopes of defeating it that drove her and the others on—that consumed their every moment.

Or perhaps she was numb, much like the strange blue woman named Katerei had seemed to be.

She considered Katerei. She had seen signs of guilt and pity in the woman’s countenance. Persephone might have attempted to get her to help them, but the magess had also seen despair. She had realized the other woman wanted nothing to do with Beorn and probably wanted little more than to be far away from him but, for some reason, had committed herself to helping him. No, they couldn’t rely on Katerei for help…

She shook herself back to the present.

Sisyphus, the rogue, had managed to make some observations about Beorn and the method he might be using to control them. He had also managed—in spite of the restrictions placed on them—to communicate it using the occasional hand signal. From he could tell, Beorn didn’t seem to be carrying anything, but he had observed a ring on the creature’s hand and suspected that he carried an amulet as well.

The controlling mechanism might be either one of these items or it might be neither. The only way to tell would be to somehow get both ring and amulet…

Persephone heard movement and turned. Beorn and Katerei were entering the woods. The other undead—the giant Tantalus and the archer Prometheus—heeded Beorn’s silent summons and closed in on them.

It was time to move on.
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Posted 20 February 2016 - 09:18 PM

Beorn moved quickly forward. Katerei followed behind. The undead were spread out around them.

There was now little point in stealth. Even if they reached their goal in secret, they could not hope to remain undetected once he began to weaken the connection between the two Cytheras. Their only chance was that their enemies also had limited resources and that maybe his counterpart was not here.

A sudden slight flash caught Beorn’s attention, and he turned to face Persephone. The undead magess was standing on the edge of the path. She had just triggered what appeared to be a warding rune.

She stared at him defiantly.

“Oops,” she said. “I must not have seen that.”

She was clearly lying, but it mattered little at the moment. After all, dealing with the guardians was part of the reason he had brought the undead in the first place.

Katerei stopped and glanced at him nervously.

“They know we’re here, don’t they?” she asked quietly.

“Quite,” he replied and continued.

All the same, there was no immediate sign of trouble as they proceeded upward toward the gateway. They were almost there, when the attack came suddenly from both sides.

There was a roar and the ground shook beneath them as massive figures suddenly tore their way out of the earth on either side of them. The group broke into a run, gaining a little distance before the monsters freed themselves and began to puruse.

Katerei she recognized the attackers: massive golems very similar to—if somewhat smaller than—the one that had attacked the Tyrant’s castle in Cademia.

Still, they were closing rapidly. In seconds, they would be on Beorn and his companions.

“Distract these creatures,” Beorn told Persephone.

“How? By dying again?” she spat out angrily.

“If necessary,” he replied calmly. “My spell and your dormancy should allow you to rise relatively rapidly. You will comply or be compelled to do so. I remind you it was you who alerted these guardians and in so doing broke our arrangement.”

The magess glared hatefully at him.

“You have no idea how much I want to kill you,” she ground out.

“That is possible,” he answered.

She raised her staff but Sisyphus stopped her. He too was glaring at Beorn.

“Come on, it’s not worth it right now,” he muttered angrily.

Reluctantly, she turned, and the rest of the undead fell back with her, stopping to wait for the golems.

“We’re just leaving them?” Katerei asked in horrified disbelief.

“For the moment. We shall hopefully reacquire them before leaving.”

Katerei froze, uncertain what to do. She hated using Persephone and the others, she hated Beorn’s coldness…and she hated herself for following Beorn up the slope as the battle began behind them.

Rapierian leaned back against the wall. The ranger sighed. The master mages had finally agreed to see him. The result had been several hours of unproductive discussions. The mages might have been prepared to believe in the existence of another Cythera—especially given the reports emerging from Cademia and news of the developments at Land King Hall—but they were not really prepared to listen to the advice of any version of Rapierian. Even his warning of the magic-blocking kesh crystals had failed to sway them. They had judged the security precautions they’d already taken sufficient, but they had at least agreed to allow the ranger another chance to convince them the next day.

He was just hoping that that would be in time when he heard the alarm bells ring.

He scrambled to his feet and tried to open the door only to find it locked. Evidently, the guards must have gone to answer the alarm but had decided to secure the door before doing so. Rapierian grumbled in annoyance and began to work on the lock.

Minutes later, he was free and was creeping cautiously along the hallways. The alarm was continuing to ring, and now he could hear cries and movement along some of the adjacent hallways. Guards and some of the more senior mages were heading toward the main hallway. Suspecting that now would be a bad time to be seen, he said nothing but stealthily followed. As he came closer, he began to hear the ominous sounds of combat.

Rapierian stopped and looked carefully around the corner to peer into the main hallway.

Scattered across it were several groups of guards supported by some of the mages. They were in locked in battle with a few opposing small groups, among which he recognized Jacob and Kaine. Several daemons provided support to the Hand and their companions.

The attackers clearly possessed skills superior to those of the defenders, but they were still outnumbered. The mages should have been able to gain the upper hand, but their spells were far weaker than normal. Some seemed barely able to cast any at all. The ranger recognized the clear effects of kesh crystals. Their enemies seemed to have no such difficulty, using their powers freely. Rapierian had seen this before and had even warned the mages about it. He had long ago found out that Selax had given his servants some sort of formula that blocked the effects of the kesh, but he had never been able to obtain any.

Rapierian frowned. Still, how had the attackers gotten into the pyramid?

The question was answered when he suddenly heard the sound of fighting behind him. Remaining concealed, he spun and faced back down the hallway. A knot of guards had spilled into it and were now fighting frantically for their lives as Selax calmly cut them down.

“Contain him! Contain—“ the command ended with an abrupt scream.

Rapierian realized at once what must have happened. The elemental had slipped into the city earlier and had begun to attack from the inside, creating a diversion and allowing the others to penetrate the main gate. Now, he was continuing to cause havoc by disrupting the flow of reinforcements to the main hallway.

Surrounded by several guards, Selax’s blades were a blur as he deflected the desperate attacks and found holes in the defense again and again. The elemental was in constant motion, sometimes flying, sometimes standing but always pushing forward.

The ranger hesitated, trying to figure out how he could help the men escape or if they could work together and possibly overwhelm Selax through numbers…

Then, it was too late. Another guard fell, and the rest broke and scattered.

Abruptly, Selax paused, stopping his advance. He seemed to listen for a moment. Then, he shot up into the air and flew down the hallway, brutally smashing aside two fleeing guards who were too slow to move out of the way.

The other guards, seeming unable to believe their good fortune, nevertheless rallied and, encouraged by their enemy’s departure, raced out to join the main fight.

Rapierian stayed hidden, uneasy about Selax’s hasty exit—actually, he was uneasy about the whole event. Selax and his minions had apparently relied on “shock and awe” to disrupt Pnyx’s organized response and to prevent them from concentrating their numbers. Still, even with the magic-dampening powers of kesh, Selax’s presence, and the skills of his forces, they were outnumbered. They couldn’t realistically take the city, and they seemed to know it. Already, they were falling back toward the gate, pursued closely by the guards.

Rapierian’s frown deepened. Even as they fell back, they were avoiding pitched fights and focusing more on simply holding attention. They were taking great care to minimize their casualties, even at the cost of minimizing potential damage to Pnyx’s forces. Most of those fallen seemed to be daemons, regarded by the Hand as rather expendable. Then, he realized what was happening.

Stepping into the hall, he yelled, but the tumult of the combat drowned out his voice. Dismayed, he turned and ran deeper into the city.
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#62 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 20 December 2016 - 04:17 PM

Beorn proceeded rapidly up the slope, while Katerei followed behind reluctantly. He stopped abruptly at the edge of a large crack in the ground. Pausing, he pulled a scroll out of his pocket just as Katerei caught up with him.

"What are--" she started to ask before he thrust the paper into her hands. Blinking in surprise, she looked at the paper and then back at Beorn. "I can't read this."

"You do not have to. Draw the symbols in the ground. Our odds of survival will be slightly increased."

Katerei somehow managed to look even more shaken than she already did.


"There is no time for discussion," Beorn cut her off again and turned back to the fissure. "When I gesture to the center of the symbols, fall back in that direction. We might not be easily able to hear one another by that time."

He pulled a green crystal from a pouch on his belt that she could not understand having missed earlier. Even in the dim moonlight, she recognized it as the Crolna.

Katerei froze, wanting nothing more than to be a thousand miles away, but, after a moment, she followed Beorn's instructions. She had gone too far to back out now.

Seeming to have forgotten her, Beorn held the Crolna out over the fissure and paused in concentration. For a few moments, nothing happened, but the air around his hands soon began to glow, flashing in odd shades of purple and green. The glow spread rapidly, and the fissure itself began to shine, dimly at first but brighter with every passing instant.

Then, the world around Katerei seemed to explode in a kaleidoscope of color and sound.

Staggered, she blinked madly, trying to clear her vision or to stop the roaring in her ears.

The sound did not diminish, but eventually her eyes adjusted for her to see somewhat and she looked about in stunned disbelief.

The fissure now shone like the sun, creating a wall of green from the fissure to the skies above where it seemed to meet the stars in a battle of purple and black lightning. For miles around, the landscape was lit in the eerie, tortured light. Beneath her, the ground heaved and groaned as if the land itself were in its death throes. About her, the wind howled, tearing at the mountains and the clouds, and she seemed to stand in the eye of the storm which grew stronger every second.

Then, Beorn, eyes glowing the same shade of green as the fissure, turned to look at her, and he glanced down at the scroll in her hands. Hurriedly, she went back to tracing the symbols on the earth. If their enemies hadn't known of their presence here before, they certainly did now.

Miles away, in Cademia, Shanadar and his friends had been up late into the night, arguing with the nobility over how to proceed.

Moonshadow, rubbing her head, was just about to propose the Enforcer give up for the night--although she knew Shanadar was far too stubborn to do so--when the land convulsed under her and several of those present were sent tumbling to the floor.

From outside the throne room, she heard the sounds of panicked shouting and running. Fearing an attack, she picked up her staff and started for the door, just as the guards from outside burst in.

"What is it? What's happening?" Shanadar asked sharply.

Neither could respond but could only point behind them. Stepping carefully to door, Moonshadow looked out and felt her jaw drop in amazement.

Far away, deep in the mountains, a second sun had been borne--a second sun that shone a horrible greenish color and reached from the earth to the sky.

For a moment, no one spoke.

"Well, that settles it," Shanadar said, grimly. "We are out of time and out of options. We'll have to do this the direct way." He turned to the nobles and the guards. "Gather whatever force you can--from the city, the farms, Pnyx, all the cities--I don't care where you get it, but I want whatever you can get as soon as you can get it!"

"What do you intend to do?" Moonshadow asked, although she had a sinking feeling she knew exactly what he had in mind.

"We march on Land King Hall and save the King," Shanadar replied, resolutely.

There was a storm of protests, but the Enforcer silenced them all with a shout.

He pointed at the light display as the ground shuddered under them again.

"Does anyone else have a better idea?"


One by one the gathered nobles nodded solemnly.

Shanadar turned to Moonshadow.

"Take whomever you can trust and go to Pnyx. Bring back whatever you can as fast as you can. I'll send runners to the other cities. Remember the duplicates, and be careful! We can't hope to completely avoid infiltration, but we must minimize the damage as much as we can."

Below Pnyx, Alcyone stumbled as another earthquake shook the ground. Deiphobus almost dropped the mage he was carrying and looked at her fearfully.

"What was that?"

"Never you mind," she hissed. "Stay focused. Even the idiots running this place will catch on to us soon."

The ruffian paled and hastened on his way.

In spite of the upgraded security, it had been easy to slip into the catacombs below the city. The team had consisted of herself, Deiphobus and a few other ruffians like him, and two or three skeletons under her control. Selax had entered the city earlier in the night and removed the security about the catacombs' entrance. Carefully and quietly, they had then began to ambush the sleeping mages and to smuggle them back down below.

Inevitably, they had been spotted, but then Selax had dropped any stealth and opened a full attack on the guards, drawing all attention to himself as the first diversion and even luring the guards away from the entrance. Minutes after the warning bell had sounded and the guard force had begun to recover, the forces outside the city had attacked, creating the second diversion and causing the guards to mistake the intent of the first.

Throughout all of this, Alcyone and her team had--with great care--continued their task, but she knew that time was running out. The Hand was surely falling back by now, and she had no idea where Selax had gone. They had all of the "help" they could get without being caught, and now it was time to escape.

Deiphobus paused again and turned toward her. Irritably, Alcyone didn't wait for him to speak but stormed up to him, intending to solve his reticence permanently. As she did so, the ground heaved beneath her, and she stumbled, saving her life.

The arrow went right through where she had been and struck Deiphobus in the chest. Oh well, at least she had been saved the trouble of removing him herself.

She whirled, sending the "shadows" down the passage behind her in a ravening burst of heat.

Rapierian dove to the side, firing again as he did so. The arrow burnt to ash as the magess snarled venomously at him before raising her staff in readiness and retreating down the tunnel.

The ranger followed.
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