Stephanie (kallysti) wrote in fantasywriting,
Stephanie
kallysti
fantasywriting

In the Failing Light

((I don't have enough projects. I guess I must need a couple of things to bounce back & forth to, lol.  Anyway, I was perusing some old forums and I came across this piece by Wychwethl.

This is probably my very favorite piece that Wych ever did, despite- or probably because of- it's very dark and heart-breakingly depressing nature. This takes place in an "alternate universe", a what-if place.  It's Norrath (the EQ world) but twisted.   I believe he was originally inspired by the X-Men stories of the same premise. Anyway, here it is, with his permission, completely unchanged.... even left in the typos & grammatical boo-boos, lol.

The first three parts are by him.  I have not altered them in any way, shape, or form.  I'll copy down all of his parts in this one post, and then continue with mine in further ones.  I'll point him here, too, in case there are any comments, etc.

~Steph))
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Part 1 (by Wychwethl)

A lithe form darted between trunks of thousand year old trees as it made its way through the tangled forest. The shadow leapt over massive roots lying exposed on top of the fertile leaf covered ground and ducked under low hanging branches without breaking stride. The agile feet covered the ground as surely they might a flat street, making neither sound nor disturbing barely a pebble or twig.

Wychwethl’s heart pounded against his lungs like a great tree crashing to the ground with each beat. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, riding his blood to reach every part of his body. Panic washed over him, an uncontrollable sense of alarm. He felt utterly powerless. The sounds of battle echoed in sensitive elf ears, the sounds of his friends, the people he loved, doing battle against an impossible foe. He heard the sounds of slaughter.

He just had to get there.

The elf broke into the clearing welcomed by a sight of hell. Innoruuk’s army swarmed over the blood spattered field. Foul creations, bodies of Dark Elves with heads of birds, decaying feathers running down their back, cruelly mimicking the hair possessed by the living, attacking their foes without mercy. Groups of fighters clustered together to ward the attackers off as best they could, but the half bird, half elf abominations attacked with no regard for their own existence, often a single bird headed monster would drag a warrior to the ground with no effort to deflect strikes at itself while its friends attacked the helpless soul.

The haze of smoke from the burning castle at the other end of the clearing burned his eyes and dulled his sense of smell. A grunt from the side caught his attention and he turned to see Abinormal take the head clean off of one attacker and then stab another in the chest. The skewered creature let out what sounded like a cry of agony, but soon turned out to be a type of alarm, others disengaged from nearby struggles and gathered around the Troll. Abinormal tried to dislodge his sword but the foul thing held it inside itself, pulling the Troll even closer to him, snapping at him with its foul beak. As one the group descended on Abinormal, mortally wounding him many times before finally leaving him to die of the many gaping wounds that seeped blood into the earth.

It was the same everywhere. Friend after friend of his was cut down in bloody swathes. Wychwethl had to watch and hear the dying screams of people he had cared for so much of his long life. The Phoenix Crusaders were losing, giving as good as they got but not able to give enough.

A flash of blinding light flared from the center of the battlefield with the intensity of a star. The holy light incinerated dozens of the foul creatures, spilling ash into the gusting wind that cut through the clearing, scattering it across the forest.

Lukaria stood isolated from the rest of the Crusaders, dead and wounded friends piled around her. Her eyes flared fiercely, the protectiveness of a mother bear guarding her cubs bringing out power she rarely hinted at having. Blast after blast thundered from her outstretched palm and Innoruuk’s creations died in waves before her, but they were without number and she was but one woman. A final white blast felled scores more but the power was gone. Wychwethl ran as fast as he could, faster than he had ever run in his life but the battle seemed to get no closer. His mind raced, throwing up images of his life before his eyes. Happy times, times of laughter and joy, times of celebration, and times of victory. As he ran he saw the faces, those he had fought side by side with for greatest portion of his life, cut down and lying in crimson pools, never to laugh again.

Lukaria’s blood streaked face snarled in rage and she spoke a single word that shook the ground and dashed the assembled hoard like water upon rock. But there were those that avoided the woman’s wrath. Wychwethl could hear himself screaming at her to turn around, pleading, begging, but the sound only rolled around in his own head. She couldn’t see the group of Innoruuk’s chosen approaching, couldn’t see the thrown spear that arced at her back. She fell to the ground, her scream cut short by the spear lodged in her lungs.

The ranger slowed to a stop and dropped to his knees as they descended on her with their weapons, which rose and fell like a ghastly drum. Tearing at her with their beaks like carrion would a week old corpse.

* * *

Wychwethl awoke in a cold sweat, his knife gripped by white knuckles, probing the darkness. His short choppy breaths filled the small ill-adorned room with an eerie non-silence that lasted until the ranger’s eyes adjusted to the dim light. He set the knife down on the bed next to him and cupped his hands around his face as he tried to calm himself. Sound from the tavern below him seeped up through the floor boards, the laughter of women, singing, and the occasional crash of broken glass. That dream felt more real than his current life. He was used to being on the road, waking up somewhere new each day, but now his travels had a different feel. Forced to sleep in shady inns and gutters, his travels now revolved around base survival, not adventure. How long had he been running?

He sighed and started to mutter a hushed prayer to Tunare, but stopped. The Wood Elf smiled bitterly, she hadn’t answered him for years, he wasn’t sure she could. The last five years had been hard, Innoruuk made his move on Tunare, invading the plane of Growth and expelling her, throwing her into hiding. The Dark Prince then scoured Norrath, hunting those still loyal to the Mother of All, few were spared, and only the most fortified areas were safe. His home in Kelethin and the mystical city of Felwithe had become impenetrable fortresses, no longer the whimsical lands of hope and peace that he knew, they were filled with inhabitants not knowing whether they would live to see the next day. Mentally oppressed they lived the lives of a population under siege, an invisible siege that could become more real than anything at the snap of a finger.

Wychwethl looked up, noticing for the first time something new in his rented room. On a table across the planked floor sat a vial filled with dull bluish liquid that shimmered in the moonlight washing into the room from the window. He turned and got out of the bed slowly, instinctively trying to keep the bed from creaking and eased himself carefully across the room. As he approached Wychwethl felt power emanating from the vial, he could tell it was a magical brew. He was about to pick it up when he could feel someone else was in the room with him.

He whirled around to see a cloaked figure standing in the corner by the door. The person was tall and slender, even under the cloak which hung to the floor. The hair on the back of Wychwethl’s neck stood on end, a combination of fearful anticipation and the power emanating from the intruder. He was experienced enough to know that rushing for his weapon would be more than a bad idea.

“Who are you?” He asked pointedly. “If you’re going to kill me, just do it.”

“You know who I am,” replied a soothing female’s voice, “I have no intentions of killing you, but of giving you your life back.” The woman pulled the cowl of the cloak from her head, revealing a river of golden hair that flowed behind her under the black cloak.

“Tunare!” Wychwethl exclaimed in an even mixture of shock, awe, and complete exasperation as he took a knee and bowed his head out of respect.

“I thought we were past that my child,” she said forcefully, slightly annoyed.

“It’s just been so long since I’ve prayed to you,” he said, coming back to his feet, “so long since I’ve felt like I believed.” He looked his Goddess straight in her brilliant green eyes, “I’ve done some terrible things, I’ve-“

“I know everything.” She stated simply, all hints of prior anger fading immediately from her melodic voice. “You have been forgiven for them all, though I suspect you won’t accept even my word on that.” Tunare smirked playfully. “So I’ve come to you with a quest. Five years ago Kallysti was taken from this plane by Innoruuk, for what purposes we knew not. Recently it has been discovered that not only is she alive, but she is also the key to overcoming Innoruuk and restoring balance.”

“I thought it was likely she was alive,” Wychwethl gulped, “the curse that was placed on me would be of little consequence if she weren’t.”

Tunare nodded, “Take that vial and have her drink the contents, its magic will return her to me, and begin the process of renewal that will wash this world clean. You’ll find her in Innoruuk’s palace in his plane of Hate,” she finished, her voice full of fire and vigor. “You’ve walked a path separate from mine these last years.”

The Wood Elf averted his eyes again, this time in shame. As he did so Tunare reached out, grabbing him lightly by the chin and turning his face toward her once more, as a mother might a sheepish child.

“Through your life you have walked the path of the devout, the friend, the hunter, and now you tread the path of the hunted. You’ve survived, you’ve become the embodiment of nature’s balance.” She stepped closer, pressing her lips softly against his forehead, much like she did when he had first visited her realm which seemed like an age ago, “You’ve done nothing in your life to earn my disappointment.”

Tunare stepped back, raising the cowl over her head again. “My time here nears its end I’m afraid. I can’t stay exposed like this long, else I’ll be discovered, and I cannot risk you being captured now either,” she said quickly gesturing toward the vial as she began to fade away, “my blessing is with you, you cannot fail so long as their memory is in your heart!”

She disappeared as she arrived, as if she had ridden the wind itself. Wychwethl looked around at the room he was in. The sense of a purpose greater than merely surviving filling him with a strength of spirit he hadn’t felt in years.

Wychwethl turned and walked to his packs that sat in a pile next to the bed. He rummaged around in them for some time until he found an object wrapped in red velvet cloth. Opening the little bundle he held in his hand a pendant fitted with a sparkling gem at its center. Engraved below the gem were two names, names he thought of often among so many others. Closing his hand around it he shut his eyes, seeing again that day five years.

He was paralyzed, shocked by what he had seen done to the others. Selquinn and Kallysti were standing on a low hill, trying their best to fight their way to a group of wounded. Suddenly a hole in the universe tore open behind them. Wychwethl could still see the look of horror on Kallysti’s face as she was grabbed by a pack of diminutive robed figures and dragged screaming into the doorway. She cried out for help, but as Selquinn turned and grabbed her arm to fight to pull her back he was pounced on by two of the bird headed fiends, torn from his life forever.

Feeling driven to get started he carefully packed the pendant away in his bags. He quickly got dressed, putting his articulately made armor on over his worn leather clothing. He finished gathering his gear and quietly left the room, making sure he had the mystical vial tucked away at his side before shutting the door and stepping out into the deep dark night.

*****

“Don’t be discouraged dear,” the short woman said as she scurried inside the little home, hanging her dripping overcoat onto the rack next to the door, “with times as they are, it’s a wonder any of the children are showing up at all, there’ll be more soon.” She smiled lovingly as the man behind her ducked inside out of the pouring rain.

“I know, but I just can’t help but feel I could be doing something more important, like-“

“More important than teaching these children about the wonderful things magic can do for them?” She said behind a beaming smile.

“You always find a way to make things seem better Cait,” Loreat said with a smile, “but I just can’t help but feel I’m raising their hopes only to have them dashed. Telling them stories about the old days, the adventures…” he trailed off, staring sadly at the burnt and torn banner that hung on the far wall over their fireplace, it was emblazoned with a fiery phoenix rising toward the heavens. “I can’t help but feel that I should be making them ready for what awaits them in just a few years, war and pain and sorrow.”

“They need to know what it is they’ll be fighting for to make it worth fighting for,” she spoke softly, handing him a cup of hot tea, trying desperately to raise his spirits, “the children that come seem to enjoy your lessons, and they may as well be happy now, while they can.”

Thunder crashed outside and rain beat against the domed roof of their quaint home. It rained often in the Misty Thicket, but rarely like this. Many of the Halflings they passed on their way home from Rivervale had warned them that it was some kind of omen. A sign that great change was on the horizon and for many of them that meant war was on its way. It was widely known that Innoruuk had made his move against Tunare and those that worshipped her, but rumblings of mortal powers looking to create their own power bases flooded the gossip groups as well. Caittune and Loreat, both experienced adventurers knew better than to take such rumors seriously and calmly tried to tell the others that they had more to worry about from the Gods than from other mortals. Hysterics are difficult to calm however, and many were claiming they had had visions of a dark traveler coming in the night, whether a portent of good or ill though none knew.

Caittune shivered and nestled into one of the large fluffy chairs that sat just in front of the stone fireplace and pulled a throw over herself. Loreat knelt down beside her and worked on getting a fire started. He put some wood and some kindling inside the stone cubby and reached for the lighting tools but Caittune stopped him with a petite clearing of her throat.

“Right,” Loreat said, standing up and heading for his own chair.

Caittune furrowed her brow and a spark started above the wood in the fireplace, the spark split and showered over the dry kindling, igniting the wood and getting the fire going at a low roar almost instantly. She smiled mischievously at Loreat and giggled into her tea. With a grunt Loreat sat down in his chair, as he did though a wrapping at the door cut through the roar of the rain and crackle of the fire.

“Who could that be?” Caittune inquired out loud as she hopped up and made a bee-line for the door, always excited to have company.

“Wait a moment Cait.”

Loreat looked to the wall where a pair of swords hung crossed, and with a wave of his hand they came to life, floating behind Caittune to the door, who gave him a sour look.

She grabbed the knob at the center of the door and turned it. The round door opened with a groan and the sound of the storm outside roared louder through the open portal.

Caittune dropped her cup of tea with a crash.

“By the Gods,” she breathed, “Wych!”


Part 2: (by Wychwethl)

“Been a long time Cait,” Wychwethl said over the pounding rain. “Lore,” he said with a nod as Caittune let him in the house.

He set his packs down by the door and took off his cloak, hanging it on the rack by the door. He started into the house but stopped, looking down at his muddy boots, he smiled awkwardly at Caittune and slipped them off so as to not track in mud. Wychwethl looked up, realizing they were still staring at him in disbelief.

“You two look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Wychwethl said, trying himself to get used to the idea of seeing his old friends again.

“Aren’t we seeing one?” Cait whispered, her face smeared with unease.

“No, no I’m alive,” the ranger said somberly and trailed off.

The three stood in the living room in silence, none knowing quite what to say. The rain continued to beat upon the roof in waves and lightning forked with a crash outside the window and Caittune jumped at the noise. She couldn’t stand it anymore and she roared in laughter.

“This is silly,” she said waving a hand at the storm outside and walking around to the pot of tea that sat on the stove in the kitchen, “would you like some tea Wych? You must be absolutely frozen!” She poured herself a new cup and looked over at the Wood Elf.

“No, I’m fine thank you.”

“Well, why don’t you come in here by the fire,” Loreat spoke for the first time, walking back into the fire lit room.

“Yes,” said Cait in an overly motherly voice, “I want to get a good look at you! We haven’t seen you in… oh how long has it been Lore? Why it’s been five years!”

Caittune pushed Wychwethl deeper into the room and sat him down in a third chair, and gasped.

“This scar,” Caittune said absently, “what happened?

“A lot has happened in five years,” Wychwethl said, looking down at the floor. “I’ve made some bad choices, one of them earned me this,” he said coldly, running his finger along the six inch scar that ran down the left side of his face, over his eye and along his cheek.

Looking up he saw the banner hanging above the fireplace for the first time. Wychwethl stood up and walked over to the mantle without a word. He placed his hand on the ancient fabric letting his fingers roam freely over the faded and torn symbol at its center. His hand traveled down to the mantle and found a dented helmet, faded pink steel and chipped and splintered horns betrayed its age and use. Next his hand found shattered bow, stained and frayed at the breaks. Other such items lined the mantle, magical trinkets, partially destroyed armor, things that were important, things left intact by Innoruuk’s army, a dulled dagger sitting on top of a torn patch of chain tunic. He turned and saw that both Caittune and Loreat were looking into their tea.

“We should have been there,” Loreat said, looking up at Wychwethl, “I had this nagging doubt about going to Knowledge that day. If we had been there maybe things would have been different.”

“No,” Wychwethl said, nearly cutting him off, “you would have been killed like the rest.”

“How can you know for sure-” Loreat started to say.

“I was there!” He said through clenched teeth. “I was there! I saw everything. Celibate, Amroth, Mehlok, Sulas, and Sahaj were the lucky ones, they were killed when Innoruuk focused his power on the keep and it collapsed on them. The rest were set upon by his horde, they stood no chance. They fought on though, through the pain and loss they fought to the end. Innoruuk’s newest creations, part Dark Elf part carrion bird were too fast, too strong for them. They swept across the field in a murderous rampage, literally tearing them apart before my eyes!” His fists were clenched at his sides in anger, beginning to choke on his words, “Poor Lukaria,” tears began forming in his eyes, “they sensed Tunare’s power in her, they- they dragged her down, ripped her apart and they…”he trailed off, unwilling to go any further.

“I know it’s hard, but, how did you survive- I mean, why did they spare you?” Caittune inquired, on the brink of tears herself.

“The worst thing about the creatures,” Wychwethl began, sitting down again, “is their intelligence. They do the most barbaric things without batting an eye,” his lip curled up in hatred, “but the do precisely what they are told, they are controlled madness, filled with the purest of hate. They left me alive because they were ordered to. I was no threat…”

“What do you mean?” Caittune peeped. “You’re one of the most dangerous people I’ve ever known.”

“It was too much for me, I quailed in fear. It was a vision straight out of some nightmare, out of hell. I was running to them, and- and I just stopped. Just stopped and dropped down to my knees because I knew we were beaten. They all died in front of me,” he snorted a stiff, bitter laugh, “I didn’t even have my sword drawn. Abinormal was cut to ribbons, left to die and I didn’t move. Lukaria was butchered, I didn’t move. Kallysti was taken and Selquinn was dragged down screaming her name. I was a coward,” he said flatly.

“Innoruuk appeared as his monsters closed in around me,” he continued. “I was on my knees, trembling before him. He smiled and told me he was going to take pity on me, allow me to live. He laid a curse upon me, one that would turn my blood to foul oil and end my life should I not renounce my faith in Tunare.”

“Kallysti,” Loreat said, putting the pieces together.

Wychwethl nodded. “So I did, I threw Tunare by the wayside, just like I abandoned everyone else.”

“No, no you did it to survive, it can’t be held against you!” Caittune said softly.

“It can’t be excused Cait,” he said, looking her straight in the eyes, “I’ve always lived by a code where I’d rather die than surrender what I believed in.”

“I was contacted the other night by Tunare,” Wychwethl continued. “Kally is alive.” He paused to allow Caittune and Loreat to trade shocked expressions. “She possesses some inner power that Tunare can use to restore balance and push Innoruuk back into his realm. I’m going after her, curse be damned” he said with fiery eyes. “I just don’t know any wizards that aren’t now connected to Innoruuk in some way, I was hoping you two knew one so that I could get to Hate in secret.”

“I know one,” Loreat said quietly, “but, we’re coming with you.”

Caittune nodded quickly in agreement.

“We owe it to her, we owe it to them all.”

“I won’t tell you who the wizard is Wych if you don’t let us come. We won’t take no for an answer,” he stated firmly, crossing his arms over his chest.

“One last adventure then,” Wychwethl said finally.

Caittune got up quickly and rushed off to dig out their old adventuring equipment while Loreat gathered a few spell components. Blowing a hefty amount of dust from a thick, well worn spell book Loreat looked up at Wychwethl who was gathering his own gear from the pile of packs he had dumped down just inside the house. Wychwethl could tell both Cait and Lore missed the adventures their old lives often flung them into. He emptied his belt pouches, replacing the contents with the vial of magical liquid and the red velvet package. Everything else was put into his larger packs which he hung with care on the series of hooks on the wall near the door. Loreat looked at him quizzically.

“What are you doing Wych?”

Wychwethl looked deeper into the house for Caittune, but he couldn’t see her.

“You can make better use of this stuff than I Lore.”

“I don’t understand Wych.”

“You have to promise you won’t tell Cait,” Wychwethl said, peering down the hall again, “I won’t be coming back,” his voice matter of fact. “The curse Innoruuk laid upon me will take my life, that’s why I’d prefer to do this alone. I can tell this is important for you two to do as well though.”

Caittune entered the room again bubbling and cheery, weighed down with packs of gear and spell books. Loreat gave Wychwethl and understanding look and put on a false façade of cheeriness.

“Ready to go?” Loreat asked the Halfling as he had hundreds of times over the years with the Phoenix Crusaders.

“Yep! Wait- Wych, why are you leaving all your stuff here?”

“We won’t be long,” Wychwethl lied, “It’d be best if I travel as light as possible.”

The tiny woman shrugged in acceptance, “We should get going then!”

Wychwethl and Loreat nodded, following the Halfling into the raging storm outside, stopping only to lock the door behind them before leaving their home possibly for the last time.


Part 3: (by Wychwethl)

“It is truly a puzzle, how fragile and yet so resilient you mortals are,” the words snaked themselves out into the stale air. “A testament to my handiwork,” wicked teeth filled his mouth in a cruel smile as he spoke, “time and time again I’ve broken you,” Innoruuk cooed, “but each time you’re brought back to me, your true creator, to provide me with more entertainment.”

The Dark Prince ran his hand along the side of the woman’s face, “Marvelous really.”

“You still will not forsake your love for that Elf pup I had destroyed five years ago?” The God of Hate knew well that she would not, could not at this point, Kallysti had ceased being able to speak coherently years ago.

She twitched involuntarily and stared into the wall with glossed over eyes, the effects of the mental torture Innoruuk was carrying out on her. She turned her head absently to the sound of dripping water somewhere behind her in the stone room she was being held in. The only thing holding her upright were the chains stretching up to the ceiling that held her arms up above here head and those bolting her feet to the floor. She shivered slightly, wearing only a white gossamer robe, worn with age and slashed horribly in the back.

The click of boots echoed down the hall and Innoruuk turned his head as D’inkat, Innoruuk’s dungeon guard strode into the room flanked by two of the bird headed Elf-daemons. D’inkat was a large man, a nine foot tall dark elf with the muscle mass of a barbarian, but all the cruelty and intelligence of the race he was molded from. He wore an elegant tiger fur cape that fell off his shoulders in thick folds and dragged on the floor several feet behind him. D’inkat met his God’s eye and dropped to one knee in reverence.

“What would you have me do my Lord?”

* * *

A brief flash of light and the overwhelming smell of charred ozone were the only indications they were there. The four dark figures looked right at home in shadows of the tall stone buildings, but they soon ducked into the black alley just a few feet from where they appeared.

“This is far as I go,” the wizard whispered looking around nervously, “you all are on your own.”

“Your help is much appreciated, you took a great risk doing this,” Wychwethl whispered,” this will not be forgotten.

Loreat nodded politely in thanks to his acquaintance.

“Good luck and be safe,” the wizard said before mumbling a few words and disappearing into a fiery portal.

“What now?” Caittune squeaked.

“We find Kally and we get out,” Loreat said, eyeing Wychwethl. “In and out.”

The ranger nodded, poking his head out into the street. He craned his neck to the sky and smelled at the air, then kneeled down and sniffed at the air closer to the ground.

“Can you tell where she is Wych?” Caittune asked amazed.

“Believe it or not…” Wychwethl winked. “This way.”

The three friends hurried down the cobblestone street, skirting large cathedral like buildings devoted to Innoruuk’s worship. Twisted black spires reached into the sky like an infernal hand, warped and disfigured into a menacing claw. High above viscous fog shrouded the stone sky that was the thick stone floor of another level of hate-filled architecture.

The group came to a corner and Wychwethl motioned for them to stop. He slinked up to the sharp stone corner and poked his head around. His ears perked up at the sound of clack and clatter of bone scraping against stone and he saw a shadow skip across the rough stone floor and disappear into the shadows of an alley around the corner, which ran to the alley that broke off from their side of the corner.

“Lore! Behind you!” Wychwethl warned as he whirled around to see that the ashenbone drake had already made it through the alley and was stalking toward Caittune with great broad strides.

Loreat turned and, grabbing Caittune dove into the street as a solid bone claw crashed to the street, throwing shards of bone and stone into the air. Dust fell through the bone cage of the beasts neck with as the vibrations from its shriveled vocal chords created a throaty roar that echoed off the stone around them. Rearing up on its hind legs the bone mimic of a dragon prepared to crush the Halfling and Dark Elf under its heavy, jagged mass.

The construct’s head was struck with a hollow “thok!” at the last minute by an arrow that shattered against its skull and showered the area behind it in wooden splinters. The beast hesitated for a moment, just long enough for the man and woman to scramble out of the way before the beast came crashing down in the spot they had just previously occupied.

Caittune, an expression of shock still plastered on her face raised her hand, and with a word flash of lightning left her palm and struck the ashenbone drake in the ribs, firing splinters in every direction. Sensing the nature of the peril it was in the drake raised its head high into the air, stretching its neck to the limit it prepared to cry out to the silent city for help. But before it could utter even a single sound another arrow spliced the air and lodged itself in the creature’s neck bones, severing the long dried out vocal chords that would call for their doom.

The drake whirled around to face its newest threat, forcing Caittune and Loreat to the ground once more lest the bony tail sheer their heads from their bodies. The ashenbone drake opened its mouth as its wild gait brought it closer to the ranger, hungry for Elf blood. Wychwethl calmly drew back the string of his bow, aimed, and let fly once more. This arrow caught the drake on the bottom of its jaw and pierced the top of its head, adhering the beast’s mighty jaws together. Another sorcerous blast shook the beast and again it turned its attentions on the Dark Elf and the Halfling.

The bone claw of the drake arced toward Loreat and he raised his hand, desperately throwing up a series of protective runes that hung about him in the air like lazy clouds and braced himself for the coming blow. The claw hit the cloud of runes and slowed, the runes pushing back, forcing the air around them to move in great gusts that grabbed Loreat’s robe and sent it rippling around him in the eddies of wind. The shimmering cloud of runes lit up like fireflies as the claw was pulled back and thrust against the shield again. This time the wall of runes buckled and sweat beaded on his face as he fought to keep the mystical shield in front of him.

The claw punched through.

It struck Loreat in the gut with its full force and threw him into the wall of the building directly behind him, where it crashed into him again, throwing a spider-web of cracks running up the length of breadth of the wall. The drake stepped forward, dragging the Dark Elf along the wall, pressing his frail form flatter against the harsh stone before flinging his body clear and into the street.

“Lore! Oh Gods Lore!” Caittune screamed and ran to him where he lay on the cobblestone.

Wychwethl sprinted around the drake and took a position between Caittune and the fallen Loreat as she kneeled beside him.

“Cait, can you move him?” The ranger asked as he drew his blade with a muffled metallic click.

“He’s still alive!” The dams of her tear ducts broke and tears streamed down her face.

The presence of the ashenbone drake kept Wychwethl from seeing just what kind of condition Loreat was in. He gulped, not sure they would survive this encounter to rescue Kallysti.

The drake leaned in close, bringing its pair of dead eye sockets in line with the Wood Elf’s silvery gray eyes. Suddenly behind him he felt something. Slowly the hair on the back of his neck began to stand on end, then his long silver hair began to float over his shoulder as he was engulfed in a wave of static electricity that flooded the space between the two sides of the street. He turned and saw the diminutive Caittune standing over Loreat’s prone form. Fire burned in her eyes like a pair of glowing coals.

Flashes of lightning convulsed and danced across the black stone buildings like a pair of lightning rods in the middle of a super-storm. Arcs of lightning broke off from the walls and burned black streaks in the street around them. Wychwethl backed up slowly until he was behind the Halfling.

Two points of light on opposite walls flared up and met in the air above the street, cutting through the ashenbone drake’s back, snapping it in two and flinging it several yards to side like a pair of bolos. Another flash of light marked another strike which destroyed the bone shaped creature, peppering Wychwethl and Caittune with tiny shards of bone, leaving a black scorch mark and a ring a fire where the drake lay.

Once again the city was silent, except for the sobbing and harsh breathing of the tiny woman in front of Wychwethl. She turned and brushed a mess of red hair from her eyes and knelt down beside the still man. His chest rose and fell with shallow breaths, his body scraped and broken in a bloody ruin.

“Lore, you’re going to be ok.” Caittune whispered in his ear, sobs still racking her tiny frame.

“Cait…” Wychwethl said softly, kneeling down next to her.

“You’re going to be ok Lore, please just hang on,” she croaked through the tears still streaming down her face.

“Cait, you can save him,” he started, “but you’ll have to take him out of here.”

Caittune sniffed and rubbed some of the tears from her face, “I can’t leave you here Wych.”

“You have to Cait. He’ll die here if you don’t take him somewhere for healing now! Just go Cait, don’t think about. You two still have a part to play in the coming war, we can’t afford to lose you here.”

Caittune nodded slowly and wrapped her arms carefully around Loreat’s body. “Good luck, we’ll be waiting for you when this is all over,” she said as her teleportation spell began to take effect.

“No you won’t,” Wychwethl said sadly to the vaporous after effects of the spell. Slowly black tendrils grew from the scar on the side of his face and began to spread out like a vine. He grimaced in pain and concentrated on his regrowth spell, the only thing keeping him up and moving at the moment. Soon the effects of the regenerative magical fungus had spread through his blood and halted the curses movement. But the dark tracks still remained, a callous reminder of how little time he had.

He slid his long curved blade back into its sheath with a leathery click, spoke a word and concealed himself instantly with a camouflage spell, and stalked along the cobbled street again toward his goal, the black marble spire of Innoruuk that lay in the city’s center.

* * *

Getting into the spire had been easier than Wychwethl had thought it would be. The guards posted outside had grown lax in their master’s rise to dominance; none had challenged this plane in some time. He was able to slip by them without effort, using only his mystical camouflage to avoid detection.

Now he found himself jogging down a long corridor moving down farther into the ground. The corridor was dark, and the farther down he went the farther it was between pools of light cast from the few torches mounted on the heavy walls. The ranger rounded a corner and nearly ran head long into the light pouring out of a large doorway in the wall. He heard voices inside.

“M’lord, we’ve discovered evidence of an incursion,” an avian voice rasped.

Wychwethl poked his head around the corner, he saw three of Innoruuk’s Elf/bird abominations, a huge muscular Dark Elf, and Innoruuk himself gathered around a slight blue skinned woman chained in place to the floor in the center of the room, Kallysti! He nearly spoke her name aloud, he covered his mouth with his hand and ducked back behind the wall.

“I should attend to this D’inkat.” Innoruuk said smoothly, “Just give her twenty-five today, it’s really no fun if I can’t be present to witness those joyous screams of agony,” he beamed with a lecherous smile.

D’inkat grinned wickedly and unfurled a long black whip, deep red pin-pricks of light appearing in the segmented leather where it came in contact with ground as it moved in his hand.

“Well, maybe I’ll watch a little bit,” Innoruuk mused.

Wychwethl peered back into the room as D’inkat moved gracefully behind Kallysti, bowing slightly to Innoruuk before beginning. Kallysti saw him and made eye contact for just a moment before her head lulled to the side, as if she were battling something in her own mind.

“Go away…” she said weakly.

D’inkat looked quizzically at Innoruuk, who shrugged and nodded at him to begin. Grinning madly D’inkat threw his whip arm behind him and then forward again and the lash curved cruelly toward the restrained woman.

She screamed, and Wychwethl shut his eyes, fist clenched tightly around his sword until his knuckles groaned.

“Go away!” She said at Wychwethl again, “Stop tormenting me!”

Another scream and flash of pallid red light marked another strike.

“Leave me alone,” she sobbed, looking Wychwethl right in the eyes. “Get out of my head…”

Several more strikes reverberated down the hall before the third Innoruuk’s chosen in the room reminded him that he had a possible attack to contend with. The Dark Prince scowled at his servant but decided the safety of his domain came before pleasure, she would be resurrected again. He gave one more gruesome smile and left the room. Wychwethl ducked behind the wall again and curled up inside a small cubby made by the pillar framing the huge door. Innoruuk walked up the hall towards the surface, skirted by his faithful creation, there were still two inside plus D’inkat.

Kallysti screamed again in agony and the Wood Elf flinched instinctively, he hated his delay. Maybe he wouldn’t have waited so long in the past, but this was too important for Innoruuk to hear the battle and return. Did he have it in him to do this?

Another crack. Another scream.

He could wait no longer, Wychwethl stood and ran into the room, drawing his menacing blade as he crossed the threshold of the room. The two avian creations rushed the ranger and D’inkat wore a look of utter surprise on his face. The ranger spoke a single word and was gone, vanished into nothingness. Innoruuk’s chosen stopped, unable to hear their prey. Suddenly the ranger phased back into existence beside one of the horrible creatures, blade already cutting through his target. Wychwethl’s arms met resistance mid-way through the beast but he snarled and blade snapped free, slicing the bird-headed Elf creature in two with a gout of blood firing off onto the back wall at high pressure.

The second avian creation raced to the ranger, whose face was as feral and dangerous as it’s own. Again Wychwethl winked out of sight, appearing suddenly behind the would be attacker. He grabbed the back of the creature’s feathered head and pulled it back while pushing the tip of his blade through its chest. He shoved the still writhing thing off his blade with his foot and turned to face D’inkat who was now in a position to strike.

Images of that dark day five years ago flashed in his mind, he was running on pure animalistic instinct. He had lost focus on his regeneration spell and the black tracks of veins crept freely across his body. He didn’t care, he only wanted blood.

Wychwethl sprinted at D’inkat who lashed out with his whip, aiming for the ranger’s legs. The ranger leapt from his feet and twisted and turned in mid-air while the whip struck just beneath his head as he completed his flip, leaving a charred trail of stone five feet long.

Wychwethl landed and vanished.

Kallysti watched with glazed eyes as D’inkat lashed uncontrollably at random points in the cell, leaving black burns all over the room. She watched as D’inkat began to suddenly struggle with something on top of him, as if a great weight was dropped onto his shoulders. In an instant Wychwethl’s image appeared on top of the dungeon master’s shoulders, blade held above his head, his menacing snarl in combination with the disfiguring marking of the scar twisted his face into something unrecognizable.

His arm dropped and the blade plunged into D’inkat’s head and into his body through the neck. Wychwethl’s snarl turned into a beaming grin of satisfaction as he felt the life force drain from the torturous monster. Still not completely without fight D’inkat struck at Wychwethl with his hands, landing powerful blows to the ranger’s ribs and back. With an audible grunt Wychwethl twisted the blade in his hands, torking D’inkat’s neck and snapping it halfway around with a sickening series of cracks.

D’inkat dropped down to his knees, now silent as though he were a giant doll and fell belly down onto the stone in a pool of his own gathering blood. Freeing his blade and wiping it quickly on his fallen enemy Wychwethl walked over to where Kallysti stood chained. A look of awe plastered her face, he was saddened to notice that it was not an awe of recognition but that of a two year old child who had just seen fireworks for the very first time. Or in this case, that of a delirious woman who had been tortured to death dozen’s of times and resurrected for more, and was now seeing a ghost from her past.

He looked at her sadly, “C’mon Kally, it’s time to go.”

He cut her down in a shower of sparks as his stained blade ripped through the ancient chains that bound her. Surprisingly she found herself able to stand as the chains fell around her. She stared around her, the realization that this was not a figment of her delirious imagination slowly dawning on her. She swayed slightly and Wychwethl caught her, and half dragged, half walked her over to the wall where she could lean on it for support.

“Is this really happening?” Kallysti struggled.

She was shivering, he took off his long cloak and draped it over her shoulders.

“Yes it is Kally, but right now I need to you help me-”

“But you were killed, you were all killed,” she slid down the wall and held her face in her hands, “he made me watch Sel die… over and over again,” she started weeping, “I can’t do this anymore, I just want it all to end.”

“It will Kally, it will end, and you are going to bring about that end, you are going to help Tunare defeat Innoruuk for good!”

“I can’t, I don’t have the strength I had anymore,” she looked him the eyes, “ever since he was torn from me I’ve lost anything I ever had to live for I-”

Wychwethl reached into his hip pouch pocket, the curse slowly spreading across his body, and pulled out the amulet he had retrieved on that bloodied field. He knelt down and held it up in front of her. Her jaw dropped and her eyes cleared up and became as sharp as ever in an instant.

“Wh- where did you find this?” She stammered looping the silver chain around her hand and taking the object from him with great care, eyes locked on the amulet, she slowly ran her slender fingers over the engraved surface.

“It isn’t important, maybe I’ll get to tell you one day,” he said quickly, helping her back to her feet. “But right now I need you to drink this.” He said calmly, producing the glowing vial from another pouch.

“What is it?”

“It’s a potion, Tunare gave it to me herself, and it will steal you away from this place and take you to her.”

She looked around, the situation becoming more apparent to her, her surroundings more defined in her head.

“What’s happened to your face Wych?”

“A curse, Innoruuk cursed me. It is slowly killing me, we don’t have a lot of time Kally, you need to drink this now.”

“How will you get out?” She asked softly, her voice no more than a faint whisper.

“This was a one way trip for me,” he said, his tone softening a bit. “I’m playing my part now, you still have one to play. Innoruuk killed me-”

“No, we are both walking out or neither of us does.”

“Damnit! Listen, I died five years ago, but it’s only just now catching up to me and in the state you are in now there is nothing you can do.” His voice took a harsher tone.

The click of steps echoed down the hallway and a single one of Innoruuk’s elite appeared at the doorway. It scanned the room, its highly intelligent brain working furiously. It didn’t enter; instead it opened its beaky mouth and let out a scream that could be heard throughout the city. It just stood and waited for help to arrive.

Kallysti was crying, her shoulders visibly trembling under the heavy cloak draped around them. Wychwethl knew this was simply too much for her to take in at once.

“Kally, I need you to focus. Think back to all the great times we had all those years ago. The adventures we shared with all the other Phoenix Crusaders. Can you remember how happy everyone was back then?”

“Yes I do,” she said meekly, thinking back to what felt like a dozen life times ago.

“You trusted me then, remember?”

“Yes.”

“You know I’d never do anything to hurt you or that would put you in a position to be hurt right?”

“Sel would’ve kicked your green ass if you ever did Wych,” Kallysti said with some humor in her voice, the tears beginning to clear up. Wychwethl was relieved that a measure of his old friend was coming back.

Boots echoed down the hall, Innoruuk’s horde was coming like a cloud of locusts preparing to squeeze the life from a fruit grove.

“I think maybe he’ll forgive me for this,” Wychwethl said, his eyes suddenly turning hard and cold as stone.

Kallysti gasped as the ranger’s hand darted out from his side like a snake’s strike and grasped onto the Dark Elf woman’s jaw and pushed it open like a vise. She squirmed in his grip as he pushed her against the wall, and with his other he popped the lid off of the vial of magical liquid. The blacked veins now spread across his face like a wildfire out of control. He tilted her head back and poured the glowing potion into her mouth, pinching her nose until she swallowed.

“You son of a bitch!” She screamed, slapping him.

“Maybe one day I’ll have your forgiveness too,” he said sadly as dozens of Innoruuk’s chosen crowded to the door.

Something burned in her stomach and Kallysti doubled over in pain. The spell taking effect, she felt herself being torn from Innoruuk’s plane. She looked at her hand through clenched teeth and began to see stone floor beneath as the warm feeling spread through her body, carried through her in her blood. She looked up and saw Wychwethl looking down at her, skin quickly being consumed by the foul black poison that crawled across him like a devilish hell vine. His arm trembled and shook with the weight of his sword which he was having difficulty keeping from dropping to the cold stone.

Her anger faded as she saw the look on Wychwethl’s face, “They’re all waiting for you. Time for you all to some amazing, great things again.”

And then she was all but gone, a mere ghost in the room before vanishing into the ether, to return home.

Wychwethl turned to see Innoruuk’s chosen surrounding him curiously unsure what their next move should be. The Elf standing before them began coughing harshly, each rattling spasm forcing blood from his mouth. He groaned and fell to his knees, the last of his life stolen away by the curse and he fell, the fourth body in the room, to sleep for all time.
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