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Sword of Serengeral - Final Chapter

    • 89 posts
    October 28, 2020 4:01 PM PDT

    They emerge into a vast treasure room. Though they stand in an open space, much of the room is filled with chests and objects of every kind and age of the world. Around the walls, evenly spaced, are vertical bars of faded yellow light. Some have dimmed forever, and some flicker toward their own end.

    In the left side of the room, a piece of wall some five feet across is broken away, exposing the dark side of some enormous creature. A large eye watches the room, fixed upon the adventurers who have entered. One thorned tentacle emerges. Questing.

    Before them is a raised platform with steps leading up on either side. On the platform is a seat shaped something like a lyre, and curved arms reaching up high on either side of a couch. On the couch sits an orc clothed in furs and richly embroidered cloth. His chest is draped with necklaces in gold and silver, and pendants of glittering stone. On his head is a silver crown. Gems like sapphires ring the crown, glowing softly.

    Nisto takes a step forward.

    "Maybe you shouldn't walk any closer," says Foal.

    "Probably not," whispers Nisto.

    Eske'drai steps forward and says something in orcish.

    The orc smiles.

    ** NO NEED **

    He points to the crown on his head.

    ** I BELIEVE YOU ALL UNDERSTAND ME **

    "What are you doing here?" asks Nisto.

    The orc smiles, baring teeth.

    ** WAITING FOR YOU **

    "Do you have a name?"

    ** I AM SHADIKUT OF THE SEVEN STARS. I REMEMBER THE BIRTH OF THE REVENANT. I REMEMBER THE DEATHS OF STARS. I HAVE SLEPT THROUGH AGES. **

    "I did not realize" says the elf quietly, "that the history of orcs stretches back so long."

    Shadikut is silent.

    "I'm surprised," says Hera, "that there are not more orcs in this place. Why just you?"

    ** THE ORCS AT THE FOOT OF THE MOUNTAIN FEAR ME. THEY BRING ME SACRIFICES. THEY WAGE WAR WHEN I WISH, AND MAKE PEACE WHEN I WISH **

    "But you wanted us to find you," says Nisto.

    ** I HAVE BEEN... BORED. I ENJOYED WATCHING YOU MAKE YOUR WAY TO ME. AND THE OTHERS WHO FOLLOW. COME OUT. MY PET SHALL NOT HARM YOU. LET US MEET ONE ANOTHER **

    Hera feels the rotten magic of undeath and spins around to look at the hallway behind them. She hears an intake of breath from the halfling. Seven corpses shamble into the treasure room wearing the armor and livery of Thronefast. Behind them is a tall man with long, stringy dark hair and dark, staring eyes. Next to him is a man in leather armor with an arrow already nocked to bowstring. Behind them all walks a man in the finest human clothes: richest velvet vest over a loose shirt, black leather boots, fur-lined cloak, well-trimmed beard. Beside him is a leather-clad man with a dark mask.

    ** AT LAST, ALL OF MY NEW FRIENDS ARE HERE. WHAT SHALL WE TALK ABOUT? **

    "Choath," says Nisto, his voice filled with barely contained rage. "How dare you?"

    "You must know by now," says the man called Choath in a calm, cheerful voice, "that I use every resource that I have."

    Nisto pointed to one of the walking dead. "I used to hunt orcs with that man! He was a..." he swallows, unable to speak any more.

    "In any case," continues Choath, "you should address me as baron. You, like them, were tools to clear the way for me to this..." he glances around the room with a look of mingled distaste and avarice, "treasure."

    Out of the corner of her eye, Hera sees Crowsinger whisper something to Jalasko, who nods. To Choath, Hera says, "What you have done is abomination even if they were strangers to us all."

    "Yes, I thought you might say something like that with your... qualms. But whatever your talents, I doubt you can deal with seven undead at once. Geevo?"

    The necromancer opens his mouth to speak, but in that moment an arrow passes over the shoulder of one of the undead and pierces Geevo's neck. In an instant, Jalasko has another arrow nocked. At the same time, the druid sends Verdanfire lances over the same path, striking for Geevo's neck and face. Her fox companion appears for a moment on the necromancer's head, then dashes away leaving flames behind. And Foal is there behind him, piercing his back with her blades.

    Choath is shouting something, but a moment later, all seven corpses fall to the mosaic floor.

    The archer in front of Choath fires an arrow at Crowsinger.

    Hera leaps before the halfling and blocks the arrow with her shield. As she forms a celestial barrier around herself, she feels the telltale warmth of a Verdanfire seed within.

    The masked man next to Choath has disappeared, and he and Foal begin chasing one another from one shadow to the next.

    Nisto runs forward with his shield before him, straight toward Choath.

    "Tikaisten, guard me!" shouts Choath. There is now fear in his eyes.

    Hera speaks a Word of Power, and Choath flies across the room until he is in front of the paladin. She holds her sword against his neck.

    ** ARE YOU GOING TO KILL HIM? **

    The voice sounds genuinely curious. Hera knows that a battle is still happening around her, but she only stares into Choath's eyes.

    "You are a paladin," he whispers. His arms rise, both hands held up in surrender. "You are meant to uphold the righteous values of Thronefast, of the human realm."

    "I don't know who told you that," she says. "Every paladin chooses their own path of justice. Whose justice? For whom?"

    Choath swallows.

    "As for me, the worst abomination in this world is Undeath. It isn't just the absence of life, as I'm sure our druid is aware. Undeath is a solid substance, a darkness as searing as the brightest light, and it is my holy mission to eclipse that unholy star with the light of the true heavens."

    "I am a baron—"

    She sweeps the blade of her holy sword against his throat and tosses him away from her.

    "I am Justice."

    She looks up and sees the baron's archer dead on the floor. His hands tightly grip the hilt of a dagger that he has plunged into his own chest.

    Jalasko kneels on the floor, being healed by the druid, who has already removed two bloodstained arrows from him.

    Hera hears a scream behind her and spins around to see a strange scene. She sees the great hole in the wall where the body of the creature that attacked them down the hall oozes partway out into the room. Sees its great eye fixed on the baron's knife fighter, who is held in the grasp of several thorned, many-eyed tentacles. A great many eyes fixed on the man, whose blade he plunged deep into Foal's body even as she pushed him toward the monster.

    A chrysalis forms around Foal, and the baron's fighter loses his grip on her as he's pulled closer against the monster.

    Hera speaks a Word of Power, and the chrysalis bearing Foal is pulled toward her. The treasure room is lit by a sun as the paladin heals her and the chrysalis dissolves.

    Foal opens her eyes and blinks, takes a deep breath, then looks toward the wall. Her opponent is either dead or unconscious, with the thorns embracing his body, the tentacles' many eyes half-closed.

    "It worked!" says Foal. "Thank you."

    Hera nods and looks over to the others. Nisto is kneeling by the body of his old friend, now peaceful in true death. The elf is standing very still, staring at the orc on the couch above.

    ** THAT WAS WONDERFUL **

    "Was it," says Eske'drai.

    ** I TRULY HOPED THAT YOU WOULD PREVAIL, BUT I WAS WILLING TO FEEL SURPRISE **

    "You are pleased, then?"

    ** WHAT SHALL WE DO NEXT? **

    "Justice," says the elf. "Honor. A code. Orcs have such a code, as do humans, elves, halflings. We might have different ways, but we all have ways that we learned in community with others of our kind."

    Shadikut is silent.

    "But you," Eske'drai raises a finger and points at the orc, "you do not."

    Shadikut is silent.

    "It is, I believe, because you are not an orc."

    ** DO I NOT LOOK LIKE AN ORC? **

    "Tell me, when did this orc first put you on its head?"

    The gems in the crown glow softly, pondering. Then the orc smiles.

    ** AGAIN YOU ARE CLEVER. YOU ARE AN ELF **

    "I am an elf."

    ** YOU ARE MY FIRST ELF **

    The gems flicker.

    ** I REMEMBER THE THOLEN KHSTAFANOTHEN **

    "It was a tholen who wore you first. Before my people arrived on Terminus."

    ** NHYSTYRROK **

    "Of course. Khstafanothen must have lived hundreds, even thousands of years ago."

    ** SO LONG **

    "And now you play orcs and humans against one another."

    ** GAME **

    "A game," says Nisto quietly.

    The elf holds up a hand, gesturing Nisto to silence.

    "When did you become sentient?" asks Eske'drai.

    ** I OUTGREW KHSTAFANOTHEN. I WAS A BETTER KING. I WAS WORSHIPPED **

    "And what will you do now?"

    ** PLAY **

    "You have been lonely."

    ** NOT ANYMORE **

    The elf begins to chant, long words, many consonants, the sound of cold winds on a mountaintop, the sound of crackling fires that keep away things in the dark, the sound of seasons like moods flickering over the world.

    ** STOP **

    Hera and Nisto move next to Eske'drai and raise their shields. The others ready weapons. The elf continues to chant. The gems on the crown glow an angry ocher.

    As one, the gems crack and go dark.

    The orc howls and reaches for his head. He rips off the crown and throws it away from him. Then he looks at the humans. Eyes narrow.

    Eske'drai says something to him in orcish.

    The orc spits an answer and runs toward the back of the room.

    Nisto runs up the steps on one side until he is near the couch.

    "There is another passageway in the back," he says.

    The others follow him onto the platform and look around. Behind where the orc was sitting, there are even more treasures. Chests, weapon racks, piles of precious metals and uncut gems.

    But Nisto's attention is fixed on a stand holding a sword. The blade gleams like some metallic slate, with intricate runes etched down the sides. The hilt is wrapped in woven bands of some thread. An oval pommel cradles a single gem. He reaches for the sword, but does not touch it.

    "I have never seen such runes before," says the elf.

    "Neither have I," whispers Nisto

    He reaches out and grasps the hilt, then lifts the sword into the air. It is pefectly balanced, and the blade gleams amber in the ancient lights around the walls.

    The scabbard was mounted underneath the blade. He takes it, and sheathes the sword. "This is all I wanted," he says. "The rest of you can take what you wish."

    Judging from the nearby sounds, someone already is.

    They turn at a sound like a giant walking through mud. The creature in the wall is oozing farther out, carring the already dissolving body of the baron's man with it. It's eye is passing over the adventurers.

    "Can we fight that?" asks Jalasko.

    "I thought you said this wasn't your world," says Crowsinger.

    The ranger shrugs. "It's a creature. I have arrows."

    "I think this might be a good time to remind everyone," says Eske'drai, "that if this is the same creature, it's body is in the walls all the way down that corridor, and into the tunnel beyond."

    "So... fifty yards." Jalasko frowns. "We're going to need a bigger party."

    "I agree," says Hera. "And now I wonder if that crown's power was the only thing keeping it in its place. Barely."

    Seven yards of its body have emerged, more and more thorned tentacles pulling out of the wall as it moves.

    Hera draws her sword again. "I suggest you all gather what you can carry, if you wish, and follow me through the back."

    "I agree," says the elf.

    Jalasko nods. "Bigger party."

    He grabs another handful of gold and stuffs it into his pack. Foal has a copper chest about 18 inches long. Crowsinger has found a short staff embedded with malachite and lapis. She seems quite taken with it.

    The adventurers follow Hera through the corridor in the back of the treasure room. They walk for a long time, slowing occasionally to allow Eske'drai to examine a mural, mosaic, or inscription they see along the way. There are rooms off to the side, but they hold little of interest. None lead away from this corridor, which is the only path.

    At last they come to another round room, with walls of arabesque tracery in red and gold. On the other side of the room is a raised platform beneath interlocking arches. Within, the air glows blue.

    "A portal," says Eske'drai. "As there seem to be no other exits from this place, I think we have little choice but to see where it takes us."

    "I'll go first," says Hera, with a stern glance at Foal. She walks onto the platform beneath the arches, then dissolves into blue light.

    One by one, they emerge into a nearly identical room. Hera leads them down another hallway until they reach a door of some red metal. Hera pushes the door open.


     

    They are on a platform on the mountainside. Before them, with the rising sun behind them, is an army of orcs.

    "Do we have a plan?" asks Jalasko while nocking an arrow.

    A familiar orc steps out of the army and walks toward the platform. He makes a strange gesture, then speaks.

    Eske'drai replies in orcish. After a brief conversation, he turns to the others and says, "The shaman Akrol tells me that he has been captive of the magic of the crown for almost seven years. In return for freeing him, he will allow us safe passage. Once."

    "Once," echoes Hera.

    "They will allow us to go wherever we want. We can go back to the fort, back to Harrow. But if they see us again..."

    "Understood." Hera takes a breath. "Let us go then."

    The sea of orcs part in the middle, making a corridor through which they pass. The orcs on either side stare at them, obviously not entirely happy with this arrangement.

    Jalasko turns around during their passage to look back at their exit from the mountain, but he sees only bare mountainside. Another illusion to hide the treasure.

    By evening they have passed down the mountain and reached Krondol Fort. Nisto and Hera recount the tale of their journey, and the fate of Baron Choath, along with all the soldiers he took with him.

    Later, alone in his chamber and more weary than he could ever remember feeling, Nisto unsheaths the Sword of Serengeral again. In every way, it is beautiful. He runs his fingers along the runes in the blade, grasps the hilt and holds it aloft.

    "I thought we might have a talk," says the sword, "now that we are alone."

    "Yes," says Nisto. "I think we should get acquainted."

     

     - end -


    This post was edited by Crowsinger at February 5, 2021 4:28 AM PST