By Deverian Valandil
Under Burning Skies
[ 8:00 ]
It wasn't so much the prey or even the taste of blood that gave so much thrill to the wyvern. Razor-Wing's maw curled up slightly as it embraced the rush of the wind blasting past its body and the sight of the tiny, panicked crowds of humans below as they scattered from his path. Yes, the true thrill came from the hunt .
The grey tower was now close enough that the wyvern could see the mess of wagons and diplomats gathered outside the front doors. Still grinning, the beast began a downward dive, opened its maw wide, and prepared to release the heat building up in its lungs. [ 8:02 ]
* * *
It was the sound that perturbed the guards more than anything. That screeching cry, like the death scream of a hundred black crows, was enough to stun many of the soldiers before they realized what was happening.
Atamir turned away from the wagon he was checking and saw the winged bringer of flames on fast approach. The Captain was the first to react among the stunned crowd.
“Sound the alarm and evacuate the remaining envoys!” he shouted, “To arms! To arms!”
A number of nearby guards and paladins glanced around at each other and uncertainly held their swords and shields up. Across the plaza, Razor-Wing unleashed a volley of its flame breath, sending a sheet of fire over a group of wagons.
“No, you idiots! Round up our archers and spellcasters,” Atamir clarified. A gauntlet clapped him on the shoulder and Atamir turned to see Sir Treysen standing behind.
“We have none,” said Treysen, “They were all slain in the explosion at the Ducal Palace, and no reinforcements were sent.”
“Then we need to get the envoys away from this place,” said Atamir.
“I'll take care of that. You command the field out here,” the false paladin ran inside the tower, smiling to himself. [8:06]
* * *
The Captain grabbed the nearest guard, “You there, lieutenant. Where is the squadron leader?”
“Over there, sir,” the guard pointed across the street toward the charred bodies in the fire.
“Well then, you just promoted. Order the men to spread out and do their best to distract the beast from the envoys' wagons. But tell them not to fight it. They won't stand a chance without ranged weapons.”
The guard nodded and began to move through the crowd, nervously spreading Captain's commands.
Atamir glanced about the crowd and spotted a familiar bun of red hair several metres away. He shoved his way past the fleeing civilians and caught Selena by the arm. She blinked and slowly came out of her shocked state.
“Tell me you have an offensive spell,” said the Captain, “A lightning, blade storm, magic stone, anything!”
“I have a Bolt of Glory, but I can't hit the monster from this distance. If I was touch the beast, I'd be able to use another special spell I have,” she said, touching the holy symbol of Tyr around her neck, “But I imagine that would be nigh-impossible to achieve right now.”
Another fireball struck a wagon nearby, exploding as it made contact and sending the vehicle spinning across the square, crushing bystanders along the way. Everyone watched as the wyvern flapped its razor-tipped wings and soared higher into the sky.
“I don't have any healing spells left either,” Selena said, looking at the bodies strewn about.
“Forget the healing, these men are prepared to die. We need to kill that wyvern!”
“I can transmute my Bolt of Glory spell into a widespread healing spell…”
The Captain shook his head, “The paladins could handle that later. This creature is our major concern, think on that!”
High above, Razor-Wing stretched its wings full spread, casting a great shadow over the tower below. [8:11]
* * *
Damn creature , Treysen thought to himself as he raced up the steps through the tower's winding central staircase. First it shows up three hours early, then it starts attacking without even waiting for my signals.
He threw open the trapdoor at the top of the stairs, climbed out onto the tower's flat rooftop, and rushed to the battlements.
Razor-Wing was flying in chaotic movements, randomly breathing fire or slashing the sharp bone tips of its wings on the buildings below.
“Attack the guards, you dumb animal,” Treysen muttered.
He pulled back the cuff of his uniform and held his arm high, exposing the jeweled bracelet around his wrist. The gemstones shone in the sunlight and the colourful glinting caught the eye of the flying creature.
Treysen made an exaggerated swooping gesture with his arm, then pointed toward the swarm of guards, all desperately trying to achieve some semblance of an ordered rank and file. The wyvern let out another screech, then followed the false paladin's directions and began a dive for the cluster of men and women. [8:15]
* * *
Peeking his head out the stable doors, Bryn gazed up with a mixture of fear and awe at the great creature terrorizing the district. The boy couldn't see the guard captain or the elven cleric anywhere, and this attack surely would have distracted them from the search for his father.
“Wonder if I can make it across the plaza safely…” he whispered aloud, taking a tentative step outside. As soon as he did, a flaming wagon came down, crashing to pieces just a few metres from the stable doors, making Bryn stumble away onto his back.
“Huh,” he said to himself in a daze, “Think I'll just wait it out in here.” [8:18]
* * *
Krevis couldn't stop glaring daggers at the back of Dace's head as they walked toward Greyhelm Tower. The madman's hand was resting atop his crossbow, prepared to raise and shoot upon the slightest provocation.
“You can stop that now,” Dace said without turning, “I gave my word to your employer. So long as it suits me, I will see this mission through to the end.”
“And what do you gain from this, you blighter? Gold? Prestige?”
“I have enough of the former, and I no longer care for the latter,” he turned his head slightly and Krevis could see part of Dace's grey hair under the hood, “Priorities change when you have played the game for as long as I have.”
“Your priorities had better not conflict with my own, for if they do…” Krevis lifted the crossbow and the magic bolt cast a faint green glow on his face, creating an even more menacing look than normal.
Dace turned back to the road and said nothing. Krevis grinned wildly to himself, satisfied that he made the point clear enough. Both killers, though silent, could fathom two pieces of information; they were both in this for the sheer thrill of the hunt, and before the day was done, at least one of them would be dead. [8:22]
* * *
Selena made her way up through the many floors of the tower, racing toward the rooftop vantage point. Part of her was stinging with uncertainty; she had sworn her cleric's oath first and foremost as a diviner and a healer . Yet now she had no choice but to turn away from the injured and dying people below in order to bring damage to a greater threat. Hopefully it would be easier to hit from with the Bolt of Glory from the roof.
She climbed up through the open trapdoor to the outside. Halting in her step, the elf spotted Treysen standing at the balcony edge, waving his arm around in precise, directing movements. The cleric immediately rushed to his side and saw Razor-Wing, flying about in circles around the plaza.
Treysen jumped in surprise as the elf entered his field of view, and he instinctively pulled his arm back down. Selena noticed that when he did this, the wyvern abruptly stopped and hovered in its place for several seconds, staring at the pair, then began to randomly breathe fireballs at the ground below once more.
“What are you doing here?” Selena and Treysen asked simultaneously.
The paladin replied first, “I was… observing the battlefield, directing the guards and knights down there.”
“It won't do much good without any archers,” Selena said, shaking her head, “The Captain sent me up here to launch a spell at the wyvern.”
“A spell?” he echoed, feeling a pang of worry, “No, no, that won't work.” His mind raced to think of an excuse.
Selena noticed his cheek twitching into a slight sneer.
“What if you miss?” he finally said, “You're not a trained war cleric. If you accidentally strike the soldiers below, you'll only make the situation worse. Are you really that certain of yourself?”
“I…” she glanced over the side of the rooftop, then held her head high, “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Damn , thought Treysen, you just strengthened her resolve .
The elf began to move her hands in the necessary motions for the spell, but the knight lashed out and grabbed her roughly by the wrist.
“I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that. I am not confident that you can cast the spell accurately enough.”
Selena yanked her arm away and was about to try the spell again when they heard the wyvern let out a low roar from below. She looked down and saw a piece of wood sticking out of the wyvern's side. It looked like a toothpick compared to the size of the creature.
A second shaft of wood struck the flying beast in the tail. Looking further down, Selena saw a small team of soldiers in red uniforms fanning out across the plaza. The archers had arrived from the city barracks.
“Damnation, how did they get here so fast?” Treysen muttered under his breath.
Although his words might not have been heard by human ears, the elf's hearing picked up the entire sentence. Selena brought her head up in disbelief, “What did you just say?”
“Er, nothing. Look, there is no need for you to cast the spell now. We'd best head down below before we're struck by a stray arrow.”
Treysen was worried that there had been such a quick response from the local militia, but didn't pay it much thought. Razor-Wing's scales were thick enough to take several volleys of arrows, and it would be some time before they managed to slow the beast down.
Now he had another problem to deal with. The false knight gestured for the cleric to follow, and they descended back down into the stone tower. [8:32]
* * *
Derrick glanced around the corner, and was amazed at the number of soldiers and archers running about the square, all to take down a single wyvern.
“How about that,” Cerdan remarked, “We're completely spiked.”
Derrick squinted at the beast, “It must have some protection enchantments. Why are there so few battlemages here?”
“That's why,” Cerdan said, pointing at a nearby building consumed in flames, “It first destroyed the mages' guild.”
This is going to be much more difficult than I anticipated , Derrick thought to himself.
“So what's your illustrious plan, Blade?” asked the elf.
“We need to find someone in charge, probably a paladin. I saw the guard captain removed from his command last night. You scout around the side, I'll search the front battleground.”
“Heh, me with all the slippery stealth, you with all the combat action. Just like old times.”
“I hate old times,” Derrick murmured as he made his way through the crowd of archers and fleeing civilians. [8:37]
* * *
Selena followed behind Treysen by a few steps, staring at the three broken gems on the jeweled bracelet around his wrist. The elf though to herself, only one of those gems were cracked earlier.
“Tell me again, sir. What was it you were doing on the roof?” she asked.
Treysen didn't stop or look back, “I was directing troop movements.”
“But how could they see you from that height? And how can you possibly direct so many guard squads just by moving a single arm in the air? That doesn't –”
“Cleric, I will confess to you: I'm tired. Lack of sleep might not affect elves, but humans have such failings. Please do not make this harder on me than it already is.”
“Very well, sir.”
Selena quietly incanted the syllables to a Detect Evil spell and waved her hands as the knight's back was turned. The spell activated, and Selena detected… nothing. There was no telltale evil aura coming from Treysen. Odd indeed.
Sir Treysen looked back and saw her bringing her hands back down.
“What were you about to do?” he demanded.
Embarrassed that she actually thought Treysen might be a traitor, Selena stammered, “I- I wasn't doing anything. Just stretching, sir.”
The false paladin furrowed his brow and continued walking down the stairs. She knows , he mused to himself, she's figured out that I'm a traitor! If I want to escape the city with Verskul and whoever else is left, I'll have to silence her .
Glancing over to the side, Treysen could see an empty room that had a balcony overlooking the back side of the tower. Most of the guards and archers were gathered at the plaza on the opposite side of the building.
Treysen smirked and waved Selena over toward the room, “Look over here, there is something important you should see outside.” [8:42]
* * *
Krevis gazed up at the scaled creature gliding upon the wind. Fires, smoke, and screams filled the air, and the madman let out a dark chuckle, soaking up every second of the experience.
“I see our intervention is not necessary,” said Dace, “the wyvern is creating more than enough distraction from whatever it is your employer is planning.”
“Heh heh. Maybe I'll throw a little extra support to ol' Razor-Wing,” Krevis fastened the crossbow to his belt and drew out his twisted kukri, then loped off into the battlezone.
“Where are you going?”
The madman flashed a devilish glare back at the assassin, “I'm going hunting.” [8:45]
* * *
Selena stood a few feet away from the edge of the stone balcony, but wouldn't go any closer, despite Treysen's urging.
“Is there some reason for this? There are more important matters to deal with right now,” said the elf.
“Oh, there's a reason.”
Treysen turned and took a menacing step toward the cleric. On instinct, Selena took a step back and raised her hands in defense. Thinking she was going to cast a spell, the false knight charged forward and grabbed her by the arm before she could reach for her mace.
“Release me! What is the meaning of this?” she shouted, now convinced that there must have been something wrong with her Detect Evil spell earlier.
“The meaning?” Treysen laughed, “It is fear. Fear of my own death, fear of ceasing to exist. After all, a hundred years is far too short a time. Once this city has been destroyed, my master will grant me eternal life.” Despite her attempts to pull away, he forced her over to the balcony, overlooking a four-story drop. “It was no small matter to mask my aura so none would sense my betrayal. But for me, the sacrifices will outweigh the gains.”
“You can't do this!”
“Just another sacrifice.”
“Then it seems I have no choice…” Selena closed her eyes and uttered an unintelligible elven syllable.
Treysen tightened his hold on one of her arms, “What was that?” Unwilling to wait any longer, he quickly shoved her from the edge.
The cleric's holy symbol of Tyr suddenly released a blinding flash of yellow light. Treysen would have screamed in surprise, but he found that his lungs were now immobile and wouldn't exhale. Completely paralyzed by the spell in Selena's amulet, Treysen couldn't release his grip on her arm either.
The elf fell backward from Treysen's push, pulling the false knight over the balcony along with her. As they went over, the cleric snapped her free arm out and was able to grab hold of the balcony edge.
Combined with Treysen's weight, the elf's flailing movements shook his hand from her wrist, and the knight plummeted toward the ground.
This isn't right , Treysen shouted in his mind as he felt the air shooting past him, Why can't I move? Verskul, save m –
And he was abruptly silenced by the hard ground rushing up to meet him. [8:52]
* * *
Another exploding fireball sounded from the nearby battleground as Cerdan made his way around the back of the tower.
“Derrick, you crazy, crazy man,” he thought aloud, “Ah well, at least it isn't me rushing headlong into trouble back there.”
As he made his way toward the stables behind the building, Cerdan saw that there were a surprising number of horse-drawn merchant wagons standing about unattended. Apparently the owners were either too rushed, or too dead to bother retrieving their vehicles.
The elf was about to check inside the main stable building when he heard a high-pitched noise coming from up above. He tilted his head slightly… it wounded like a woman's scream.
A woman? Cerdan eagerly looked up and spotted a figure in a white cloak, dangling by one arm from a balcony high up in the tower.
The thief's eyes went wide and he ineffectually shouted, “Stay there!” before running for the nearest wagon. Rescuing pretty damsels always brought rewards… in more ways than one. [8:55]
* * *
From his hideout, Verskul could hear pounding on the front doors. Apparently a few of the local guards saw the wyvern burst out through the roof and were intelligent enough to investigate the source, rather than chase after the winged beast. Intelligent, yet still ultimately foolhardy.
He gazed around the main narthex. The polished black altar at the centre still pulsed with the magical force from his reanimation ritual.
The pounding stopped briefly, then was replaced by an slower, louder banding noise. Evidently the guards had wised up and found something to use as a bettering ram.
No matter. The liche stepped up to the altar and laid his skeletal hand against the cold surface, fingers spread, concentrating on the flow of arcane power. Magic was, to the more learned spellcrafters, just another type of energy in nature. And like energy, it could be converted into direct force under the right conditions. As a liche, he had the ability to feel the magic. It was like raw power, distilled into a tangible form. The red embers of Verskul's eyes flared slightly, and he began to harness the energy within the altar.
The doors creaked and burst open off their hinges, allowing a trio of guards to charge inside. Verskul barely noticed. He pushed with his mind and was bathed in a green light. His form blurred and vanished like a mirage, leaving the baffled guards and alone in the room.
A moment later, the altar suddenly exploded, sending a sphere of flame to all corners of the room. The guards lost their composure and turned to flee, but the blast knocked them off their feet and sent them flying out the front the building. The walls were devoured by the magical fires and weakened, causing the roof to cave in.
And elsewhere in the city, Verskul was now ready to begin his final ritual…
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