A Battle, And A Parting Of The Ways.

The rough, muddy slope was also slippery, and both Caelan and Meliantha nearly fell a couple of times. When they stepped out, it was through a roughly carved hole into a stone corridor that smelled ancient and musty. Caelan made a disapproving noise, and Meliantha shot him a look, then rolled her eyes, and glanced around. Obvious muddy prints showed the way to go, and so they followed them.

The fact that the Cyricists were sloppy worked very well in their favor. They had apparently thought they weren’t detected, or that their guards would be better than they were. Ahead, in the corridor they’d lit with sunrodsfoot-long, gold-tipped, iron rods that glow brightly when struck for six hours and does not produce flame, were more muddy footprints and a dozen corpses of hobgoblins and lizardfolk lying around the foot of an opened stone door. They stopped to check the corpses, and nodded. Magic had killed them – probably protective magics on the door. A test by the Cyricists, probably.

Each of them readied their weapons, and stepped as quietly as they could around the door, to see what was inside. Twenty robed Cyricists stood in there in a rough semicircle around one more. This one was wearing more ornate robes, and was chanting at a sarcophagus, carved with eye-bending shapes that swam in front of her eyes. She blinked and shook her head to clear it, but the container just bothered her eyes to look at.

She chose to look instead at the men. Most of them were holding sunrods, but two of them, closest to the chanting man, were holding other things. The one to the right held a chime of some kind, the other was holding a robe, and his body language made him seem even more intent on what was going on than the others. All of them had some kind of armament, and the three at the front probably had some kind of magic – the chanter was almost certainly a priest or mage.

“A priest,” Caelan whispered, “probably fairly high-ranking. This won’t be easy.”

“I have an idea,” she whispered back. “I’m going to use the ring again, and then sneak up and try to kill him first. The shock should put them at a disadvantage.” He nodded, as did the three lizardfolk  L’ssha carefully removed a handful of items from her pouch, and nodded – a learned gesture, as lizardfolk nods usually meant ‘preparation to eat’.

Or maybe not – they might be seeing a feast. After all, to lizardfolk, meat was meat. 

The ring activated with a touch. Meliantha slid carefully around, not touching a wall or a cultist, and moved to just out of the direct line of site of the chanting man. Over his robe, he wore a jeweled pectoral with the Black Sun of Cyric formed of pieces of onyx, and at his waist was a mace that glowed a dark, unpleasant green. Underneath the robe, she could pick out the telltales of chainmail.

She took a moment to study him, watching him chant and wave his arms, and patterns of thought showed her what to do. You are my target; you are my prey, she thought, and then with no further thought called Chainbreaker to hand, and with a single swift move buried the greatsword in a single blow that took it all the way through him, transfixing his heart along the way.

The chanting stopped as the chanter lost the ability to breathe, and Meliantha became visible. She snarled, her face twisting and pushing her own fiendish appearance to the fore. The cultists were stunned for a moment, and before they could act vines pushed through cracks in the rock and wrapped around them, tying them tightly. Only the front two were able to act, and one did by ringing the chime he held.

It did, approximately, nothing at all. He stared at it in horror, and before he could say anything, Meliantha had taken his head. The one holding the robes had dropped them and was drawing some kind of wand, but another vine rose up through the floor and wrapped itself around his neck, holding him still long enough for Meliantha to kill him as well.

Caelan looked nonplussed as he lowered his rapier.  “That,” he said, “was rather anticlimactic. Well, who likes big fights full of danger anyway?” They finished off the other cultists – Meliantha’s status as a Gold Dragon giving her the right to pronounce judgement on them, and none of them were willing to surrender anyway, as they vocally made clear.

A bit of exploration after the fight was over determined how they were able to burrow down so close to the crypt: they’d found an entrance, then send slaves down to set off traps and fight guardians until they got close to it, keeping maps and records, and then just dug down here to make it easier to get in again. And, Meliantha considered, if they’d succeeded, to get everyone who survived out.

The two humans parted with the lizardfolk, who politely waited for the humans to leave before scavenging the bodies to take back to their tribe. They walked for a few hours, until the sun went down. Neither spoke much, as the swamp itself took a great deal of work to pass through.

When they finally stopped before dark, Meliantha had come to find a fog settled around her mind. When fighting, she could think, but now, with just her and Caelan, she felt singularly placid. She wasn’t sure if she liked it, although it was calming to not need to think, to worry, to let Caelan make the decisions.

As she had, after dinner, inside the enchanted tent, she approached Caelan, who was examining some of the papers they’d taken from the Cyricists. She laid one hand on his shoulder, and he reached out and slapped it away. “Get away from me, mongrel,” he snapped, rising from where he sat, a look that mingled disgust, triumph and an appalling kind of pleasure on his face.

The fog in her mind had thickened, and she stared at him, almost uncomprehendingly. What was he talking about? He was her lover…

“Really, did you think I loved you? Each time you touched me, I had to keep from flinching. You’re abhorrent. But knowing you still were a maiden in some ways made you easy to manipulate, and so I did it. The things one does for our lord Bane. But between the sex and the drug, you slowly, slowly bent to my will.”  He turned and walked until he was nearly nose-to-nose with her. “I knew spells wouldn’t work – we knew about your sword – so other ways. We didn’t know it was going to be you, but I was prepared for most of the agents we knew about.”

He must have recognized the confusion in her eyes through the fog. “Oh, yes, drug. Why do you think I was willing to cook? I put it into your food. Not mine, just yours. Just enough to bend your will and make you trust me, believe in me…” He gave a cruel, ugly smile. “…perhaps even love me. And now, with this revelation, and what I know of you? Oh, you must be broken inside. But that’s all right.” He reached up to touch her face, a parody of a lover’s caress. “Once we get back to the caravan – they are spies for us, actually – they’ll break your bond with that sword, and then when we’re done, you’ll be so very loyal to Zhentil Keep in your heart. We’ll know everything.”  The caress, suddenly, became a grip on her chin. “You are ours, and soon you’ll pray to Bane alongside us.”

He pushed her away, and she fell onto her back, her heart aching and soul crying out.  He’d used her. She’d let herself been used. And, a thought wormed into her: why had Helm not protected her from this?  

Because, child, Chainbreaker’s voice thrust into her mind, firm and strong again, as she felt the poison start to burn away and be replaced by anger, the best protectors learn from their mistakes how those they protect feel.

Did that drug stop us talking? she thought to him.

Yes, that poison stifled our bond. But with some help, you’re being cleared of it. Now do what needs be done.

He turned his back on her, and was using her own command words to collapse and restore the furniture. “This will come in handy in my travels. Someone like me needs a bit of comfort. Who’d have thought something like you could appreciate the finer things?”  He reached down for one of her books. “This, though,” he said, holding the Teachings Of The Red Knight with two fingers as if it was dirty, “no, no, this for the fire. Now get up and help me with this. If you’re good for anything other than information and doing our bidding, mongrel, it’s carrying things.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d seduced a virgin and broken her spirit – in truth, he enjoyed it. Even this ugly one, the sight of her spirit bending gave him a little thrill. As he heard her get up, he smiled. She was learning her place. Taking orders from him. Just as it should be. And then he heard her inhale, sharply, and his finely tuned senses felt a slight shimmer of magic. Like… the sword. He turned.

He did not recognize the person before him – rage had blotted out everything recognizable in her face – and he had the briefest of moments to recognize his mistake before the blade took his arm. As he began to pass out, he realized she was crying.

The blade swung back, and at that moment, he knew he’d pushed too far too fast. Ah well, he thought, and a cold touch on the side of his neck, and he knew no more.

 Meliantha dropped to her knees next to his headless body, and wept. She screamed at the unfairness and the cruelty, she pounded the dirt with her fists. She let loose a howl of soul-pain that sent a pack of wolves fleeing and even made a nearby green dragon decide that it was not worth the trouble to investigate.

A short time later, three lizardfolk appeared, one of them being the apprentice shaman L’ssha. She looked with mild curiosity at the corpse. “disagreement?” she asked.

“Yes,” Meliantha said shortly, stuffing the last of her things into a bag.

“what will you do with the body?” asked one of the lizardfolk.

“Leave it here.”  She’d already cut off the pouch with the drug in it, and taken his money and a few items of magic he had, along with the papers and items from the cultists, the better to turn them in or sell them.

“ah,” the one replied. They looked at each other and seemed to come to a decision.

“Goodbye,” Meliantha said, and started off into the dark wilderness. When she was out of sight, the lizardfolk picked up the corpse and its separated parts and prepared to take it back. Meat was meat, after all, to them.

Meliantha finally stepped out of the swamp, and reached for her medallion.  She touched it to activate the message function, and Loran Durtharr heard her voice in his ears:

Cyricists slain. Tomb buried. Going to Berdusk. Will drop report in Suzail. Will let you know when back.

He touched his own medallion, and used its power to send a reply.

Go to Junirill. Will meet you there and send you on.

If she was going home, he thought, she’d want it fast.

“Ravenbrow,” he called out, and the sorceress looked up from her desk. “Pack up, we’re taking a boat in the morning. The lass needs some friends and a teleport home, so grab two scrolls.”

Sapphira Ravenbrow nodded, stood, adjusted her new War Wizard robe, and did as she was bade.

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Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

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