By Deverian Valandil
Though this be Madness
[ 9:00 ]
With her legs still dangling without support, Selena threw her other arm up and grasped the edge of the stone precipice. Taking a deep breath to calm her breathing, she closed her eyes for a moment.
There is no need to panic , she thought, I've never had a fear of heights...
The elf glanced down and saw Treysen's mangled body far below. His neck had been twisted into an unnatural angle by one of the large stones that fell from the tower during the wyvern attack.
… until this moment, that is.
She turned her gaze from the sight below and focused on the balcony she was hanging from. Thrusting a hand over the edge, she found a grip in the crack between the bricks on the balcony floor. Straining her weight against what little strength remained in her arms, the elf slowly began to pull herself up.
As she did, however, the brick she was holding wobbled slightly and suddenly came loose from its place, sending both the brick and her hand flying back. The cleric let out another scream as her other hand lost its grip on the balcony as well, and her body slid down off the side of the balcony.
Wind whistled past the elf's ears, and she plummeted down… and fell through the roof of a wagon canopy.
Cerdan released the reins of the merchant wagon and looked back at the woman he just saved. The leather canopy had completely caved in under the cleric's weight, but the silk pillows and fineries inside the wagon cushioned her fall.
The thief stood atop the driver's perch, “Are you alright?”
Selena rolled over and felt a tearing pain from her shoulder and leg, “Ugh, my arm and ankle. I think I broke something again.”
“Well, I'm sure it's nothing a good spell can't fix, miss…?”
“Selena Shademoor,” she mumbled, rubbing her shoulder as she tried to hobble into a standing position on her good leg.
Cerdan gave her an odd look, “That's not an elven name.”
The cleric brushed her messed hair out of her eyes, “Well, sir, I would not–” she stared at Cerdan and her memory clicked.
I knew it , thought Cerdan, smiling inwardly, s he's captivated by my daring rescue!
Selena reached for the mace at he belt and ordered, “Do not move. I recognize you from earlier today, you hit me in the face with a board!”
“Aw, spike it all!” Cerdan cried as he remembered the woman. The thief immediately grabbed the reins and gave a hard shake, prompting the horses to charge. The steeds went into a quick gallop, causing the cleric to stumble and fall on her back atop the collapsed wagon roof as the vehicle lurched forward.
Cerdan leaped off the driver's perch and hit the ground running in the opposite direction. Selena rolled over and looked back at the fleeing elf. The rogue sent a quick glance over his shoulder at the woman and made a brief smile and salute before disappearing into the streets. [ 9:10 ]
* * *
Bryn warily stepped out of the building as he saw the horses come to a stop just outside the front of the stables. As he watched, the elven woman rolled off the back of the vehicle and carefully stood on her uninjured leg.
Selena noticed Bryn standing nearby, “You there, boy!” she shouted, mistaking him as one of the pages from the summit, “Run around the front and find the nearest cleric. Tell them I'm out of healing magic and require aid.”
The wyvern was still circling above the streets, and the elf needed to save her remaining magic for the Bolt of Glory spell. At a loss for what to say, Bryn simply nodded and dashed off, uncertain as to what he was going to do now. [ 9:13 ]
* * *
“Prey, prey, everywhere,” Krevis whispered to himself as he moved unnoticed through the crowd of guards and archers, “And so the hunter is drawn.”
Animals, that's what they were. These childish creatures who believed themselves men. Krevis reached to his side, drew his kukri weapon, and stepped over to the nearest archer that was aiming a longbow at the wyvern.
With an almost casual swipe, the pale man severed the bowstring, making the archer drop the arrow and sending the bow shaft out of position.
“Hey! What in the bleeding hells are you doing?” the archer yelled into Krevis' smiling face. The officer then noticed the crudely sewn, multi-coloured armour that the madman wore. “You're not a guard, why are you even he– ullk!”
Krevis twisted his blade deep in the man's gut and sharply pulled out, relishing the mixture of shock and fear on the man's face as the last flickers of life went cold.
Krevis turned and saw that, much to his pleasure, a trio of guards had taken notice of the kill. All three now drew their swords and began to circle around him. Even with the wyvern flying overhead, more heads were starting to turn as those nearby noticed the man's eccentric attire and his bloody weapon.
“That's right!” screamed Krevis, waving his weapon in a ring around him, “Come closer, let's see how many I can kill before it dawns on you to fear me!”
One of the guards lunged in at Krevis' exposed back, raking the blade across in a blow that would fell an ordinary man. The patchwork leather shirt tore easily under the sword, but Krevis' exposed skin didn't show any sign of damage. None of these guards were equipped with enchanted weaponry, leaving Krevis impervious to them like a god among animals.
The murderer pivoted and drove the kukri up under the surprised guard's chin, drawing a stream of blood down both the weapon and Krevis' hand. When he glanced over his shoulder, Krevis saw that the other guards were starting to hesitate and had now adopted defensive stances.
“Yes… now you understand what you face. Now you see the spirit of death standing before you!” Krevis' voice reached a deranged pitch, and he charged headlong into the officers that stood against him. [ 9:20 ]
* * *
Atamir shoved his way through the crowd toward the tower, wondering what could possibly be taking the elf so long to cast her blasted spell. Leave it to a faithmonger to fall short in dire times. The wyvern was showing no sign of slowing down, despite the dozen or so arrows now protruding from its hide. The Captain watched the scaled beast climb higher into the sky as it prepared for another attack run.
“How could a single beast pose such a threat?” Atamir growled. Perhaps it was magically enchanted or heavily trained. But if that was true, then why was it attacking alone?
A scream from nearby in the square drew the Captain's attention. Squinting across the street, Atamir could see several guards and archers lying on the ground, each sporting bloody stab wounds in critical places.
Stab wounds? The Captain drew his sword and ran closer. A man in patchwork armour stood laughing at the end of the corpse trail, and was in the process of cutting down another guard that stood before him.
The Captain held his blade up and shouted, “Turn around and face me, you murdering jackal!”
Krevis spun around toward his new opponent and an expression of amusement played across his face. “Well, if it isn't my good friend Durin Atamir! How are you, chum?!” He snickered as he casually wiped his bloody weapon off on his sleeves.
“Krevis…” Atamir was left wordless at the changes that he now saw in his former friend. A chaotic mess was his hair, and streaks of blood stained his hands and clothing. Perhaps most telling was the pale, clammy look of his skin. The demon spirit had undoubtedly taken its toll on Krevis. The man Atamir had once known was now dead on the inside.
“Krevis, drop your weapon and stand down.”
The madman let his eyes bug out. “Oh, this? Certainly!” he threw his kukri down into the mud, “I couldn't possibly kill you with a steel blade.”
Before the Captain could approach, Krevis spun around in a circle and snapped his loaded crossbow up to point. The murderer grinned down the glowing bolt at his former comrade, “Instead, you get a special death. Think of it as a reward for what you turned me into. As you can see, I'm much happier. Now it's your turn to drop your weapon.”
“Krevis, you're not well. That… creature possessing you is destroying your mind.”
“And strengthening my body. Without the power of magic at your side, how do you intend to kill me?”
The Captain squeezed the sword hilt. “It doesn't have to come to that.”
“No it won't.” Krevis brought the crossbow up to eye level and took aim, “Tally-ho, Atamir.”
Something suddenly moved in the corner of Krevis' eye. The madman looked to the side just as a man in grey clothing tackled Krevis across the waist. Krevis' fingers twitched as he fell, and he inadvertently released the enchanted bolt. The missile shot through the air and drove its way through Atamir's armour. Stunned, the Captain looked down at the glowing bolt protruding from his chest, and managed to stagger back a pace before falling to the ground.
Derrick jumped to his feet and drew the dragon wand from his tunic as Krevis lay in the mud.
“I can't harm you with steel or sword,” Derrick said, pointing the weapon at his foe, “But I think a magical flame would do the job.”
Krevis slowly sat upright. His kukri was still in the mud, and his crossbow and magic bolts were nearby as well, but he was smart enough to see that he wouldn't be able to reach either weapon in time.
“You can kill me, but you can't destroy me,” Krevis sneered, “Besides, you're weak. You couldn't even bring yourself to finish off the Maiden.”
As he spoke, Krevis was trying to figure out a way to escape safely. The spirit within him was immortal, but the entity had become accustomed to its current host body. Krevis was a skilled fighter; it would just be a nuisance to wind up in the body of an aging merchant like Derrick.
“Stop,” Atamir wheezed from behind, “he's… possessed.”
Derrick made the mistake of turning his head toward the fallen officer. Immediately, Krevis sprang forward, ripped the wand from the ex-thief's hand, and tossed it aside. The murderer then simultaneously drove his fist at Derrick's jaw while sweeping a foot around the ex-thief's heels. Krevis kicked in and knocked Derrick off balance, making him fall back.
“Now to finish this,” said Krevis. He looked around, checking the ground for the dragon-wand.
“Looking for this?” Atamir whispered. The Captain was still on the ground, but now clutched the red wand in his hand, pointed directly at his former friend.
Krevis slipped a hand in his pocket and threw the first hard object he could find into the Captain's face.
Atamir brought a hand up to block the metallic object, and Krevis took the chance to hastily flee into the nearest crowd of distracted civilians.
“Damn,” muttered Derrick as he struggled to his feet and rubbed his jaw, “Far too old for this.” He was about to follow after the killer, when Atamir called out.
“Hold, criminal!” The Captain's words were slow and said in a fatigued voice, “You'll not escape so easily this time.” The dragon-wand was now pointed at Derrick's chest.
“Didn't you get shot?”
“My armour didn't stop the bolt, but slowed it down.” Atamir winced and Derrick could see a patch of blood around the base of the wound, “It'll take more than a flesh wound to stop me. Now surrender yourself.”
“I'm not a criminal or a killer. Perhaps at one time, in another life, but not here, not today.”
“I don't care. You're wrapped up in everything that's been going on, “Atamir weakly pulled himself upright, “And I'm going to make sure I find out everything you know.”
“I just saved your life .”
“Do you think me some sentimental fool? I won't betray my duties. I am placing you under arrest.” Atamir called out for additional guards, and stepped closer to the ex-thief.
Nearby in the mud lay a silver pendant in the shape of a flame-winged angel. Neither man was aware of just how vital this artifact would soon be to them. [ 9:32 ]
* * *
From a nearby rooftop across the square, Dace stared up at the spiny wyvern, still circling overhead. Dozens of bleeding bodies lay about the district, painting the earth a telling shade of red.
Destruction, chaos, and death everywhere. Dace frowned. None of these things disturbed him in the slightest. But there was something distinctly wrong about all of this.
Verskul claimed that their actions here at Greyhelm Tower were merely a distraction. The assassin turned his gaze across the city, considering all the places he'd been to over the course of the day.
The assassinations at the Ducal Palace were irrelevant for the liche's plans, that much was certain. If anything, they were meant as distractions for something else. The Shield Knights at the docks were tools for the liche, blinded by the promise of wealth. And Verskul's base seemed like little more than a launching point for the wyvern attack.
Dace's lip curled down as he considered all the facts. Verskul was doing what any good magician would do. He was misdirecting the audience's attention away from the real trick. Everything that had happened, all the murder, deceit, thieving and betrayal was a sideshow, a distraction from something grander. But what could be more devastating than what the assassin could see before him right now?
Dace thought back to Verskul's base. When he was waiting for Krevis and Verskul to prepare, he'd seen the liche hand a silver pendant to Krevis. Something about their body language and the way they carefully handled the artifact indicated that it was very important to their mission in some way.
The assassin placed a foot atop the edge of the rooftop and started scanning the crowd below for Krevis. Dace didn't know what was going on, and he didn't like that at all… [ 9:37 ]
* * *
Krevis peeked around the wall at the nearby fools who were still stupidly trying to stand their ground against the wyvern. Razor-Wing had smartened up and was currently focusing its attacks against the archers. But Krevis could see that the bowmen were already beginning to get lucky; blood was starting to seep from the arrow wounds scattered across the wyvern's hide. Krevis grumbled to himself incoherently. The protective enchantments on the beast were supposed to last a few hours longer, but the unexpectedly quick response from the city archers put a hitch in that plan.
“Atamir. The bleeding bastard must have sent them a summons ahead of time,” Krevis muttered out loud. The man started to roll up his sleeve, “Guess I'll have to give my old friend a little parting gift.”
Krevis glanced down at the jeweled bracelet on his wrist and paused. All but one of the magical gemstones had been cracked. The madman snorted. So now he was the only one left, while Treysen and the other henchmen were all dead.
“Too bad, I was hoping to slaughter them all myself when this business was over. Ah well,” he said in a disturbingly carefree tone.
Krevis stepped just outside the alleyway so that he could be seen in the street. Eyes locked on the wyvern above, Krevis raised his arm and allowed the gems on his wrist to glint in the sunlight. The command spell woven into the bracelet was activated, sending a psychic signal into the rampaging beast's mind. Krevis made a quick gesture with his hand, then pointed at the part of the street where he had last seen Captain Atamir.
The wyvern hovered in place for a moment, then let out another battle cry and began to flex its bone-tipped wings. [ 9:41 ]
* * *
Derrick leaned to the side, trying to peer past the three guards holding him captive. Captain was standing several metres away, speaking with a few clerics. More importantly, he was holding up a certain silver pendant.
“Look at the shape of this amulet,” Atamir said to the clerics, “And look at the symbol on the dagger our prisoner was carrying.” The Captain held up the silver weapon Derrick had acquired from Lorelei earlier. The clerics could plainly see the same flame-winged angel on both artifacts.
“He's working with Krevis, I tell you!” Atamir reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the magical bolts Krevis had been carrying.
“Captain,” said a female voice before Atamir could continue, “Shouldn't we be focusing on the wyvern?”
The guard captain turned and saw Selena approach, accompanied by another cleric and a sandy-haired boy.
“I think Krevis is commanding the wyvern attack somehow. Same with him,” Atamir jerked his head in Derrick's direction.
Derrick squinted between his captors. What in the hells was Bryn doing here?! His son hadn't yet noticed Derrick standing behind the guards. So much the better. If Bryn were to call out to his father, the fanatical guard captain could seize the boy in an instant.
But Derrick had to get his son away from the battlefield before the wyvern burned down the lot of them.
“You there,” Derrick said to the nearest guard, “Tell your Captain that I'm willing to tell him everything I know about this attack in exchange for a simple request.”
Meanwhile, Selena was staring at the silver pendant in Atamir's hand as the man continued his rant.
“Captain, where did you get that bauble?”
“Do you remember Krevis, the mercenary who killed Aelun? He's here in the city and he was carrying this.”
The elf reached out for the pendant, “Please give it to me, sir. There is a distinct aura of death magic about it.”
“What?” he waved an arm at the other clerics, “None of these people have said anything like that!”
“They are healer clerics, not a specialized diviner like myself,” said Selena as she took the object and peered at the engraved image.
“Bah, you robe-runners are all the same to me.”
A guard stepped over to the group and whispered in the Captain's ear.
“I see,” said Atamir. He pointed at Selena, “Elf, come with me. If you're really half the diviner you claim to be, I may have use for you.”
She sighed, but moved after the guard captain. “You there, child,” she said over her shoulder to Bryn, “stay with these clerics and go into the tower. It's probably safer there.”
Bryn raised a hand as she walked away, “Wait, I don't belong–” Despite his protests, the clerics began ushering him and several nearby pages toward the looming tower. [ 9:49 ]
“That boy who just arrived with you,” Derrick said to Selena and Atamir, “I want him escorted well away from this district under guarded protection.”
“Why? What's so important about him? Isn't he just a page?” demanded the Captain.
Selena cut him off before he could respond, “I'll grant your request so long as you tell me about this artifact.” The elf held up the silver pendant for Derrick to see, “There is an incredible amount of necromantic energy flowing through it.”
Atamir turned on the cleric, “Now hold on, elf. I'm the one ask–”
Derrick examined the burning angel image, “There's some mad wizard trying to destroy the city, I–”
An ear-shattering screech filled the air, prompting Selena to instinctively drop the pendant and slam her hands over her ears. Atamir spun around and saw the wyvern soaring down, making a straight line at them.
“Run, scatter!” the Captain shouted, sending the nearby guards fleeing. The beast's trajectory was different now; it was angled down too far, flying too fast. Atamir could see blood seeping from the creature's wounds. It was on a suicide run.
Derrick looked down at the silver pendant, lying innocently on the ground. ‘An incredible amount of necromantic energy'… He snatched the pendant up and sprinted off while the wyvern distracted the guards.
Atamir stared up at the approaching beast and pulled out the dragon-head wand that the prisoner had dropped earlier. He pointed it up at the winged vision of death and concentrated on the wand's magical energy. It had been years since he last used a wand, but his audacity was rewarded by a low growl that began to sound from the artifact's mouth.
The wyvern was going at too high a velocity to react, and the wand shot a searing column of fire directly into the creature's path. The flame struck the beast in the eyes, and Razor-Wing let out a pained shriek as its leathery wings were consumed in a cloak of fire.
The Captain immediately dropped the wand and grabbed Selena by the arm, yanking her along as they ran to avoid being crushed by the burning wyvern.
Razor-Wing struck hard on the ground in a fiery heap and slid across the street before crashing into a nearby building. The beast was completely blind, but it could see its own death looming closer. The wyvern took some small solace in the fact that it would die here bravely while on the hunt.
That thought was quickly extinguished as the agonizing fire consumed the last of its protective enchantments. Within minutes, the wyvern's broken form was completely devoured by the unforgiving inferno. [9:55]
* * *
Derrick ran through yet another back-alley, looking for a path that would double back to near the rear entrance of the tower. The clerics inside the building had undoubtedly sealed the doors, and now that the wyvern was dead, the guards would eventually be ordered to hunt Derrick down once more. If he was going to find Bryn, he'd have to–
A black-gloved fist suddenly struck out as he rounded a corner, hitting him in the nose with a wet ‘crack' and sending him reeling back. A narrow-faced man stepped away from the wall and stood a few metres from Derrick.
Dace fixed the ex-thief with an impassive gaze, “You are fortunate that I have nothing to gain from your death. That could change, however, if you do not give me the pendant I saw you take.”
Gripping his nose and coughing at the slight taste of blood, Derrick stared at his new opponent. The man seemed familiar from earlier in the day.
“And why should I do that?” After being beaten so easily by Krevis, Derrick knew that he was too exhausted and burnt out to keep holding his own in combat.
“Because,” stated Dace, “I have never destroyed a liche before, and this would be a good day for me to learn.” He reached into his tunic and drew a short sword, “So what say you?” [9:58]
* * *
From his vantage point, high above the city, Verskul could see dozens of burning buildings in the north, but Razor-Wing was no longer visible. It was of little concern; even if the wyvern had perished, it was too late for anyone to stop the liche now.
Turning around full circle, Verskul could see the many districts throughout the bustling city. Baldur's Gate , he thought, for centuries, a jewel of the Sword Coast, still standing against the ravages of time .
But the liche knew that time was an unbeatable foe, an illusion that you could never harm. Nothing could fight it forever; no hero or villain, no city or civilization, not even a god could survive indefinitely. Verskul would have snorted if he had a nose. It had taken him so long to realize the folly of this existence. In the end, everything is eventually reduced to waste and forgotten. And as it is said, that which is forever forgotten never existed.
And so too do we not truly exist here , Verskul thought as he touched the Sigil of the Fallen at his neck, I will ensure that no one continues this false existence. My name may be remembered for a time, but in the end, all things are lost. Death is the only real justice in this world .
The liche raised his hands and began to chant the first syllables of his dark ritual…
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