By Deverian Valandil
Wolf in the Fold
[ 4:00 ]
“A terrible waste,” said Cerdan, gesturing at Rombis' body in the other cell.
“I'll say, I could be drinking that blood!” Krevis cut in.
“Both of you silence yourselves, lest I cleave off your tongues,” snarled the wererat from near the doorway.
Derrick, meanwhile, was lost in thought about Lorelei. Raised from death by the very people who kidnapped her to begin with, she had said.
“So why is she preoccupied with revenge against me ?” he wondered aloud, “And for that matter, what do these Sigils have to do with all this?”
“The Sigils? Why, they're the source of ultimate power ! Ha ha!” cackled Krevis, answering the prisoner's question out of boredom, “Our true employer will be using the latent magic of those amulets to dominate this entire city!”
“You won't find Derrick's Sigil,” said Cerdan, “it's so well hidden, even I don't know where it is.”
“Cerdan, you fool…”
Krevis merely shrugged, “Makes no difference to us. Everyone in the city will be burned alive in a massive shroud of flame, regardless of whether or not we obtain the Sigils, and you fool adventurers will never be able to –”
“Fine, we get it,” muttered Derrick, having heard many a villain's exposition throughout his life, “So what about this Verskul character… what did he do to your employer that made it so important for him to die?”
“Hm… you'll be asking him yourself in due time,” Krevis said with a dry grin.
While the others were speaking, Cerdan glanced down at the lock on his cell. There was no keyhole on the metallic block for him to pick; the door didn't even have hinges that could be removed. They evidently had escape artists in mind when they designed these cages.
“And what of you two?” Derrick continued, “Are you being paid? Maybe we can work something out.”
“Nice try, blighter. I'm in this for sport,” he drew a twisted kukri blade and ran its edge along the wall, “So unless you can offer me a city full of victims to murder, I suggest you seal up.”
“Krevis!” shouted the Maiden as she entered the prison area once more, “Stop talking to them. Come, I have a new task for you.”
“Does it involve bloodshed? Because I haven't seen nearly enough today.”
“Follow me to the narthex, the lycanthrope can guard the prisoners. At least he does not jabber on so much.”
“Krevis flipped the kukri weapon in his hand, put it back into his sheath, then went with Lorelei out to the hideout's main hall. [ 4:08 ]
* * *
“I see you've been out body-snatching,” Krevis remarked, looking toward the wrapped corpse atop the black, polished altar in the middle of the room, “When will the ritual begin?”
“Within the hour, but only if our agent has acquired the second Sigil. I will not start unless we can be assured our plans have at least met partial success.”
“What about the phylactery?”
“It is safe,” said Lorelei. She held up the silver pendant, which was shaped as a burning angel similar to the image on the Sigils of the Fallen.
Krevis nodded, “Now what's the new job you have for me? Something violent, I hope?”
“No. I want you to portal into Derrick's pawn store. They may have hidden the first Sigil there after they overpowered Ayva. The store must be searched again if we are to be certain.”
“Boring, boring. When do I see the action I was promised?”
“Soon enough. Be off, I need to start a spell to contact our agent.” [ 4:12 ]
* * *
Treysen rode up to the looming black-stone keep that occupied the northern point of the city. No sooner had he dismounted, than Chancellor Thinder hobbled up on his walking stick.
“Sir Treysen! I must question these security arrangements. This building does not appear safe or hospitable inside, and I have seen very few knights assigned to duty.”
“I assure you, Chancellor,” Treysen began, struggling to keep his tone calm, “There is nothing to fear. This is Greyhelm Tower . Constructed by powerful grand-magi centuries ago, and while it may not have as many amenities as the palace, it does have enchanted walls that nullify arcane magic cast within. Divine magic will still work, however, so our clerics should still be able to provide healing if the unlikely case should arise.”
“The foreign envoys fear for their safety, most have already withdrawn from the summit. You've already failed us not once, but twice. If this happens again, I will have you stripped of your rank and punished severely.”
“Understood, Chancellor,” Treysen heard an odd buzzing noise like a bee in his mind, “Now please, sir, you need to rest in preparation for tomorrow.”
“Bah! How can anyone sleep with so many assassins running about?” grumbled Thinder as he hobbled back inside the tower. [ 4:18 ]
The knight led his horse around to the stables, then glanced around to make sure no one was within earshot. He quickly tethered his steed to a post, then focused inwardly on the buzzing sound in his head. The noise staggered, then gradually formed into coherent words spoken by a woman's voice in his mind.
‘Treysen, speak to me. Have you acquired the Sigil?'
The paladin reached into his pocket and drew out the black amulet that Lord Siron had dropped earlier, ‘Yes, I have it. Shall I bring it to you now, Maiden?'
‘No, we cannot risk losing it in transit, even over so short a distance. Maintain your cover among the summit attendees for now. I will receive the artifact from you personally in a few hours. I also have a debt to repay with my father...'
Even the through the telepathy spell, the traitorous knight could feel the anger emanating from her words, ‘We cannot be sidetracked by your need for revenge. Our mutual leader expressly forbade you from–‘
‘Enough. Carry out your duty and I will perform mine,' Lorelei abruptly severed the mental connection, leaving Treysen dazed for a moment. [ 4:26 ]
“Paladin!” The shout roused Treysen from his stupor and he fumbled with the Sigil for a moment before tucking it back into his pocket. The knight glanced back and his breath caught in his throat when he saw that it was Lord Siron standing at the entrance of the stables.
Siron gave the paladin a puzzled look, “Were you speaking to someone just now?”
“Uh… I was only saying a few words to my horse here.”
The ambassador nodded but didn't show any indication of whether he overheard Treysen's half of the conversation or not, “When I left my quarters at the palace, I believe I dropped a rather valuable relic of mine. It is a large amulet carved from polished black wood. I was hoping you might have seen it?”
“No, sir, I haven't” Treysen said, quickly ushering the envoy back toward the tower entrance, “If you wish, I could send a paladin back to the Ducal Palace to look for it.”
By Treysen's count, there were still a dozen knights of staff. He could probably send a few more away to weaken the summit protection while still remaining above suspicion. Most of those around him assumed his lax security measures were due to incompetence.
How little they knew. [ 4:32 ]
* * *
“Junk, junk, and more junk,” Krevis shouted out loud as he overturned crates and knocked artifacts off the shelves in Derrick's pawnshop, “This is all I am to her, a bloody stock-boy!”
The madman kicked one of the upside-down boxes aside and toed through a pile of boots, “They could have sent me to assassinate her father and swipe the Sigil, but noooo! They had to hire out a bunch of idiot Shield Knights to wipe out everyone . ‘Shift the blame',” he said in a poor, squeaky imitation of the Maiden's voice, “ ‘If we draw the attention of the Mages' Guild or the Harpers, they may rise up too quickly and stop us.' Rubbish. All the Shields did was hire out more two-copper killers.
“Blasted idiots and their multi-layered plans. Misdirection this, and subtlety that. If I had my way, I'd misdirect her blood flow !” he said, unsheathing his kukri and waving the blade about. He paused and spoke down at the weapon, “Well, if she had flowing blood, that is.”
The chimes above the shop's front door jingled, and Krevis jumped about-face, holding his weapon ready. Standing a few feet inside the doorway was an elven woman draped in a white cloak. Selena stared at the mess, and Krevis noticed something shift underneath her cloak, as if she was reaching for a weapon.
The elf spoke, “Sir, are you the owner of this establishment?”
Damnation, thought Krevis, Say yes, and she'll have more questions. Say no, and she'll think I'm a small-time burglar.
“Yes, I am. I'm just, ah, rearranging my inventory… at four in the morning… with a weapon in hand.”
“Sir, please make no sudden movements,” she raised her hands and began to cast a Sanctuary spell on herself.
Krevis assumed the elf was about to cast an offensive spell, so he grabbed the nearest blunt object, a stone Maztican carving of a large moon, and hurled it at the woman. The cleric ducked and the object flew by overhead, but the distraction interrupted her casting and gave Krevis a window of opportunity. He charged forward, seized the elf by the arm with one hand, and slammed the door shut with the other.
“You've just happened upon me at the perfect time, missy. I've been looking for a fight all day.”
He shoved her a few paces away, though not far enough that she could fire off a spell without him interfering. Having no other choice, Selena brought her mace to bear and waited for him to attack.
Instead of advancing, the madman removed a vial from his patchwork jerkin and calmly poured some green viscous fluid along the blade of his weapon.
Selena's breathing rate doubled in her anxiety. She was, after all, only a cleric who specialized in temple services and investigative divining. Now she was starting to regret not spending more hours in the temple sparring rooms.
Krevis tucked the bottle back into his colourful jacket, then looked toward his opponent's stance, “No, no, no. Look at you. Your footing is off, you hold your weapon too high, and you're standing like a post. One part of me doesn't even want to bother fighting with you,” he lowered his weapon and Selena stared in confusion.
Then he suddenly made two large strides forward and jabbed his weapon at her abdomen, “The rest of me, on the other hand…”
The cleric wheeled back and the man's attack missed, barely scraping the woman's cloak. The elf stumbled, but caught the edge of the counter behind her and steadied herself. As the man continued forward, she swung her mace at him in an overhead arc. Krevis simply raised his arm and parried the blow, releasing a clanging noise into the air and sending the shock of impact down Selena's arm.
The force caused the elf to lose her grip on the weapon and it fell from her hand. Krevis took the opportunity to flick his wrist around, slashing the back of her hand as she began to move away. The elven woman screamed and fell away, holding her wound. She could no longer move her hand.
“It's a special blend,” said Krevis, displaying the green poison on his blade, “Ghast Essence. Instantly paralyzes the extremities while quickly parching the body's water content. In eight hours, you'll be dead.”
She tried to stand, but Krevis drew his arm back and stabbed her hard in the stomach. The pain felt numb to her, almost as if she was in a dream.
The madman laughed as a steady stream of blood began to flow, “Make that two hours.”
He wiped some of the blood and poison from his blade on his finger, smiling like a child all the while. Flashing an inappropriately pleasant wink and nod to the dying elf, he sheathed his blade and brought out his wand of teleportation.
Selena could still move her eyes, but not her head or neck. Glancing about furtively, she sincerely prayed that whoever owned this store, criminal or not, would return quickly. Her green eyes fell on a large bottle on one of the top shelves. ‘Potion of Poison Curing'.
The only salvation to her affliction, so close to her. The cleric made a valiant effort to will herself into motion, but to no avail. Somewhere in the great beyond, some god of frustration must have been laughing. [ 4:47 ]
* * *
Lorelei placed the silver pendant over the wrapped corpse's chest and moved a few paces away from the altar. She kneeled on the ground and swirled her hands, drawing arcane motions in the air. As she began chanting the first syllables of her spell, faint red light began to glow from the many runes upon the corpse's altar. The Maiden's voice became deeper as she channeled her mystic powers upon the body.
Outside the hideout, rats and birds began scurrying away from the building. Even the insects seemed to sense the dark forces gathering within the place. [ 4:51 ]
* * *
A growling, oily-skinned monster was rampaging through the streets like a bull, darting its tongue out like a snake, and hunting its prey like a canine. The wolf-beast was bleeding black blood from numerous wounds, but they did nothing to soften its thirst for revenge against the child that had caused it so much trouble that night.
The Night Parade monster glanced at the line of run-down houses along Southside Row. The child's scent had almost completely faded in the past few hours, but it had managed to track the kid to this sparsely populated neighbourhood.
Creeping around the side of the first house, the wolf-beast caught a strong whiff of Bryn's scent emanating from an open window. The beast was far too large to fit through, however. The creature stalked back to the front of Cerdan's house and grasped the doorknob in its claws.
With a quick snap, the beast used its massive strength to break the knob off and force the door open. Despite the noise it made, there was no sound of movement from within the house. The wolf creature grinned and stepped inside. [ 4:57 ]
* * *
Cerdan suddenly shivered.
“What's the matter?” asked Derrick, “This room is warm .”
“Something… threatening. I haven't felt anything this strong since the war. Intense magic is pervading this place,” the elf glanced at the shadowed doorway, “I have a feeling our day just became much worse than it already was.”
That was an understatement. [ 4:58 ]
* * *
The green-veiled woman uttered the final syllable of her spell, and fell silent. For a moment, nothing happened. Suddenly, the runes flared to life with a burning, crimson light.
Lorelei leaped to her feet and slowly stepped back. A pure scarlet flame appeared above the wrapped body, and the sheet caught fire. The fabric quickly became engulfed in red flames and was burned to ash.
Next, the flame touched the corpse within. The body's skin charred and blackened, and its flesh peeled back and shriveled, exposing the skeleton within. Then, as abruptly as it began, the magical fires vanished. All that remained was the burned skeleton and the silver pendant, glowing slightly atop its chest.
Lorelei approached the altar and stared down at the skull's empty eye sockets, “Awaken now, master. Awaken… Verskul.”
Two red, burning embers ignited within the darkness of the corpse's eyes and an aura of crimson mist formed around the skull. The skeleton's jaw opened and closed, then it sat up from the infernal altar and cast its gaze upon Lorelei.
It spoke with a chilling, echoing voice that emanated from deep within the liche's skull, “I have returned. At long last, overwhelming power flows through my very being. The time of my reckoning has finally arrived. The time has come to reduce this city to nothing but shadows and memory.”
[ 5:00 ]
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