By Deverian Valandil
Fires on the Horizon
[ 11:00 ]
Bryn's entire body was paralyzed with shock. But even in his stunned state, he was keenly aware of the vital fact that he was still alive. The boy's wits finally returned to him, and he saw Krevis' crossbow lying on the ground, still loaded. Following his gaze up, Bryn gasped and took a step back.
Krevis toppled over and landed hard against the ground. The tip of a glowing crossbow bolt protruded from the man's eye, which was now leaking blood all over the corpse's face.
Shrieking slightly, Bryn frantically wiped his own face, struggling to be rid of the blood that had sprayed on him when the magic bolt pierced through Krevis' skull.
“Are you hurt, kid?”
Bryn looked up and saw an armoured man with the insignia of the city guard standing behind Krevis, his own crossbow in hand and a few glowing bolts on his belt.
“What – what did you do?” the boy choked out.
Atamir never took his eyes off Krevis' fallen form. Without any other magical weapons, Atamir was forced to use the same magical bolts that Krevis had dropped behind on the battlefield during the wyvern's attack.
“There was no time,” the Captain said in a daze, “So I made a choice.” [ 11:04 ]
* * *
Cerdan and Derrick stood off to the side of the street while Selena spoke to the cleric that was guarding a path out of the district.
“Do you really think she won't just have us arrested?” asked Derrick.
“Trust me. If there's one thing I know, it's women.”
The ex-thief snorted, “That'll be the day.” He sent an uneasy glance up at the clock tower. The pulsating red cloud in the sky would undoubtedly attract attention, but Derrick wasn't sure if there would be any unassigned, able-bodied guards left in the immediate area after the wyvern attack.
Selena returned to the pair as the cleric she was speaking with hurried off to the north. “I explained the situation to him as best I could. He'll rally whatever help he can find from Greyhelm Tower .” The elf shook her head slightly, “But with the disarray of things back there, I'm uncertain if he'll be able to meet us at the clock tower for another hour, at least.”
“Fine. We'll have to figure something out on our way there,” Derrick said as he set off toward the liche's position, “Maybe we can use Verskul's phylactery as a bargaining chip.”
“That won't work,” Selena explained, “I don't see how it can be of use unless we destroy it. And the holy ritual to destroy a phylactery as powerful as that one would take hours to complete.”
“Well pardon us for our complete ignorance, oh wise one,” interrupted Cerdan, “But how exactly are we going to fight a liche? Can't you cast a turn undead spell or something?”
The cleric hesitated a moment. In truth, she had never even fought a liche before. “My turning ability is too weak to cause anything more than some skin irritation in a zombie. I'm just a diviner, remember.” She absently touched the holy symbol on her neck, “The liche's power comes from the magical connection with his phylactery. Sever that link, and you cut off whatever spells the creature was casting.”
“You said we can't destroy it.”
“No, but perhaps we could break the link from the liche's end. I still have a Bolt of Glory spell left. It might be enough to weaken Verskul's physical form and disrupt his spell.”
Derrick nodded along, even though he didn't like the uncertainty in the woman's voice. “We also need to see if he has the Sigils. Somehow they're vital to his ritual.”
“Very well, leave that to me,” declared Cerdan, “I've never pickpocketed a liche before, but today seems as good a day as any to try.” He tugged at the edge of his glove and shook his head slightly. “Hm. Two thieves and a mediocre cleric against a liche-wizard with enough power to wipe out an entire city. Not a good day to be me.”
Selena pointed at Derrick, “Then you'll just need to keep him distracted and then stay out of the way while we do our tasks.”
“Alright,” Derrick said as they neared the clock tower, “I'm counting on you two.”
That was a very bad choice to make. [ 11:11 ]
* * *
“Go on, kid,” Atamir said to Bryn, “I'll take care of this mess.”
Bryn swallowed nervously and nodded, then rushed away, now more eager than ever to escape this region.
The Captain crouched down beside his former friend's body and for the first time in many years, lowered his head in prayer.
“I'm sorry, Krevis. I ended your life here today just as I ended your life by hiring you to kill Aelun so many years ago.” He shook his head in regret, “My vendetta, all those years of hatred and anger at paladins and their ilk… I always believed I was in the right. Yet here I am now, soon to be cursed by the same spirit that afflicted both Aelun and you.”
Atamir slowly rose to his feet, “But what will I do now? What bloody vendettas will I incite in others, should I become like you?”
Krevis was silent and unmoving, offering neither reassurance nor solace to the Captain.
“Goodbye, Krevis. May you find peace at last.” [ 11:15 ]
* * *
Derrick stared directly up at the tall building, wondering if this would be his final hour alive. Or perhaps his finest hour alive.
Approaching from behind, Cerdan passed a longsword to his friend, “Here, don't ask how or where. I just figured we might need weapons, so I ‘acquired' a few of them.”
Selena unclasped the mace from her belt and held it ready, “Come. It's time to go.” She placed her hand against the doors, but was abruptly shocked by a spark of electricity, forcing her to flinch back.
“He has a magical field blocking the entrance,” she said, “I don't have any more spells that can dispel this ward…”
Derrick reached into his pocket, “Step aside.” Drawing out the liche's phylactery, he held out the silver pendant and touched it against the field. As it made contact, a slight ripple appeared in the invisible barrier and extended outward, making the doorway look like a wall of water. A few moments later, the field burst in a small flash of light, forcing all three of them to shield their eyes.
When the light cleared, the field was gone, and only the wooden doors remained. Without waiting for the others to say anything, Cerdan shrugged and boldly pushed them open. “If that's the best he has to offer, then maybe this won't take so long after all.” He then disappeared inside. “So much the better. I haven't even had breakfast yet today.”
Derrick gripped the hilt of the sword and began to follow the elves. The ex-thief paused for a moment and sent one last glance at Greyhelm Tower in the south.
“Someone will be watching over you, Bryn.”
And he then turned away to face the looming threat. [ 11:18 ]
* * *
The doors of Greyhelm Tower creaked open, and the clerics and pages began spilling out into the streets, quite eager to flee to the perceived security and safety of their own homes. Among the crowd were the three diplomats from Athkatla, Waterdeep, and Tethyr.
“We are in agreement, then?” Lord Siron said to his counterparts.
Ambassadors Korrien and Elsina nodded. “We are. All that remains now is the official announcement.”
“Indeed,” Siron caught a young page by the shoulder, “You there, boy, send word that we are to make a special declaration before the remaining officials and envoys in half an hour. The entire city should hear of what we have to say as well.”
The page nodded and scurried off, leaving Siron confident that the message would be delivered quickly enough. Even with the scene devastation in the streets all around him, Siron found himself smiling. [ 11:20 ]
* * *
Derrick quietly crept up the last of the stairs to the top of the clock tower. Standing in a square around the wide rooftop were four massive stone pillars that held the tower's bell suspended at the centre by cables. Verskul was standing on the opposite side of the roof, facing the city with his back to the stairwell.
Hiding behind one of the pillars, the ex-thief peeked around at the liche. The glowing Sigil around Verskul's neck was currently enveloped in an aura the very same colour as the dark blood-like clouds overhead. The artifact was beating like an artificial heart, causing the clouds to expand with every stroke.
Squinting at the undead wizard, Derrick noticed two things; Verskul was neither chanting his spell, nor moving his hands for the casting gesture. A cold pit formed in Derrick's stomach. Were they too late to stop the casting?
He glanced over and saw that Cerdan was in position behind one of the other stone pillars, ready to approach and lift the Sigil once Selena's spell was fired off.
Raising his head slightly, Verskul listened carefully. Over the humming noise from the Sigil, he became acutely aware of the sounds of several figures moving around behind him. The liche shifted his weight to one foot and began to focus his mind on another spell.
Selena was the last to emerge from the stairwell. Standing by the edge of the rooftop, she halted for a moment and stared at the clouds forming above. The crimson shade had already grown to cover about half the city. What's more, she could make out tiny specks of flame starting to appear in the air against the dark red backdrop.
“Psst!” Derrick made a furtive gesture at the elven woman, wondering what she was waiting for.
Nodding quickly, the cleric raised her hands and closed her eyes, then began to softly whisper the Bolt of Glory incantation. It was at this point that Verskul pivoted around and thrust a bony hand forward, sending a purple bolt of energy flying across the rooftop toward Selena.
“Hold it, look out!” Cerdan leaped from his hiding spot and dove at the woman, tackling her to the ground as the spear of energy soared past. The sudden interruption disrupted Selena's concentration, and her spell fizzled into a useless puff of smoke from her hands.
“Two incompetent elves?” said the undead wizard, “This is the best they have to send against me? You are hardly even worth the effort.”
Verskul raised both his hands and touched the skeletal thumbs together. A sudden gale of wind seemed to blow from his sleeves, blasting both elves around in the air and juggling them like a pair of marionettes.
Clinging to the stone pillar, Derrick watched in horror as Cerdan and Selena, both screaming against the rushing wind, were thrown one by one over the edge of the roof and fell out of sight.
Selena continued screaming as she fell from a tower for the second time in the day. Her plummeting cries were soon cut short as her cloak unexpectedly snagged on the high branch of a tree near the base of the tower. However, the sudden stop gave her little relief, as the clasp of her cloak cut into her neck and began choking her.
Cerdan fell past a split second later, missing the tree completely and colliding directly into the ground with a sickening crunch.
Gagging on her cloak, the initial shock faded and Selena fumbled for the release pin in panic. Before she could find it, there was a short tearing noise and the edge of her cloak ripped, letting the elf fall free. But as she fell, her head crashed against one of the tree's lower branches and the cleric was knocked into a daze before she even touched the ground.
Back on the rooftop, Derrick's heart was gripped in fear. He rushed to the side of the building as soon as the magical winds ended and peered down over the edge. As far as he could tell, both elves lay completely immobile on the ground below. Whether they were alive or not, he couldn't see. In any case, the ex-thief was now left alone against the powerful enemy.
“Ah, the one who killed Lorelei,” Verskul said as he saw Derrick, “I'm told you are a resourceful pest.” The liche raised his hand again and sent a series of glowing electric sparks jumping through the air toward him.
The ex-thief took cover behind the pillar again, and the magical attacks struck the stone support, each one driving a fist-sized hole into the structure amid a cloud of dust.
Damn it all , Derrick thought as he looked up at the sky. The red clouds were continuing to spread, even though the liche's concentration had been diverted to other spells and distractions. Derrick knew he would have to stall for time as he came up with a better plan.
“Why are you doing this?” Derrick shouted as the liche continued his spell assault, “Why destroy the city and yourself as well?”
“Myself? Ha, a simple teleportation cantrip will see me away safely from this doomed city. Baldur's Gate is only the beginning, you see. There is more going on than you can ever hope to understand.” The liche continued to hurl spells into the pillar, creating more and more damage to weaken the support. Verskul knew that Derrick was stalling, but it didn't make much difference. After all, liches possessed enough magic force to cast innumerable spells. And the longer Derrick tried to stall, more time would turn against him as the ritual approached completion.
“I won't let you use the Sigils' power! There are–”
“ Use them? No, mortal, you have it all wrong.” Verskul would have sneered if he could. “I intend to destroy the Sigils of the Fallen. These artifacts contain some of the essence of a former god. Have you any idea how much untapped power that is? And like any form of energy, magic can be converted into raw force if its containment is broken.”
“But why destroy them?” Derrick was frantically checking his pockets for something he could use against the liche.
“You think I am the only one looking for the Sigils? I will deny this power to others.”
“That still doesn't explain anything.”
“Do you believe yourself to be a hero?” asked Verskul, ignoring Derrick's question, “If you manage to defeat me, do you think anyone will remember your name a year from now?” He let out a bitter laugh, “You'll simply be forgotten like countless other expendable ‘heroes' in this false existence. In the end, all things are devoured and lost to the ruin of time.”
The wizard unleashed a huge, green magical fist that punched into the side of the pillar, creating a massive breach across the stone. Derrick gripped his sword, knowing he couldn't stay in this spot much longer.
“So like all other thoughtless mortals,” continued Verskul, “You seek to grasp all that you can in life, deluding yourself with quests and ambitions. Lorelei sought revenge. Treysen and Ayva wanted eternal life. The Shield Knights and mercenaries wanted gold and prestige. Krevis… simply enjoyed killing. But what of you? What do you have that is worth living for?” Verskul paused his attacks, hoping to goad Derrick into leaving his cover.
Derrick braced himself. I'm doing this for my son . He burst from behind the pillar and threw his longsword at the liche as he dived behind one of the pillars closer to the liche. He didn't expect the weapon to do any damage, but it did distract the liche for a second.
Verskul simply raised his palm, and the sword was enveloped in a red glow before striking. Calmly lowering his hand, the l iche allowed the sword to hang frozen in mid-air before him.
“Fools and dreamers all. My quest was once to seek eternal life for myself. Now I seek to deny it for others.” Verskul made a slight motion with his fingers, and the sword began to orbit around the liche in a circle.
Derrick reached into his tunic and touched the hard surface of the Wizard's Box. “What ‘others'? Who are you talking about?” he asked, hoping to keep the liche babbling on.
“Right now you believe that I am the most dangerous enemy of this city. You are wrong. Pray that you never find out what that means.” Verskul paused a moment to look up at the red cloud, “I know you are trying to stall me. In truth, I was stalling you .”
Derrick's head went up at this.
“You fail to remember that I am a liche, and no longer limited by physical gestures and vocal spells like a mortal mage. So long as I have my magic, the spell ritual will continue to progress uninterrupted. Look upon the skies. The crimson death has nearly spread to cover all of this wretched city. Time is not on your side.”
Taking a deep breath, Derrick stared down at the Wizard's Box. The infernus crystal had already been activated, and would no doubt explode mere seconds after it was removed from the anti-magic properties of the box. But Derrick had no other option. So far, he'd already survived one of the worst days of his life… now it was time to make a stand.
Jumping out from behind the pillar, Derrick pulled open the box in his hands, then thrust his arms forward, tossing the shadowed crystal at the liche.
Verskul didn't move from his place or say anything. All he did was raise a hand, and a red aura appeared around the crystal, making it hover in place like the longsword.
“An infernus crystal,” the liche observed, “A good idea, but fruitless. My magic is more than able to shield me from the blast. Once again, you have failed to achieve anything mort–” Verskul stopped when he saw Derrick hold up the silver pendant.
Focused and unblinking, Derrick was holding Verskul's phylactery a few centimetres over the open Wizard's Box.
“No, Verskul,” said Derrick, “Time's up.”
He dropped the silver pendant into the box and clapped the lid shut. Instantly, the connection between Verskul's physical body and his magical essence was severed, completely nullified by the Wizard's Box.
The Sigil around Verskul's neck stopped glowing, as did the auras around the sword and the infernus crystal. Both floating objects clattered to the ground, leaving Verskul feeling dumbfounded as if part of his body had just been amputated.
“What is this…” Verskul whispered, shocked by the sensation of being robbed of magic, “What have y–”
The infernus crystal at his feet then exploded, sending a towering burst of flame in all directions. Derrick ducked behind the stone pillar, clapping his hands over his ears and lowering his head to his knees as the blast shook the clock tower roof. Although the pillar blocked the flames, the ensuing concussive force shook the very foundations, and the stone pillars crumbled to pieces.
From all around the city, civilians who had previously hidden themselves away in their homes upon seeing the red clouds now poked their heads outside as they heard the thundering explosion atop the city clock tower.
In a single minute, the explosion had cleared, leaving behind piles of stone rubble with clouds of dust and brimstone atop the building.
One pile of rubble suddenly moved, and a hand burst out from underneath. Derrick shoved the stone pieces out of the way and slowly, painfully, dragged himself away from the rubble. He was covered in dust and bleeding heavily from lacerations all over his body… but the fact that he was alive felt satisfying enough.
Breathing heavily, the ex-thief just lay on the rooftop for a long time, staring up at the sky and trying to ignore the intense pain in his leg. The crimson clouds had stopped expanding, and even now were beginning to fade. Small shafts of sunlight were starting to peek through the dark veil, and Derrick could see that the threat was over.
Looking down, he saw that the Wizard's Box was still gripped tightly in his hand. The ex-thief quickly put the container away into his tunic before forcing himself up into a sitting position. He could see that his leg had been crushed by a particularly heavy stone slab, and had difficulty moving it aside.
The longsword he brought was lying nearby, caked in black dust. The man reached over and used the sword as a makeshift walking support to hobble on his feet. Favouring one leg and wincing with every movement, Derrick slowly crossed the roof to the place where Verskul had been standing.
To his surprise, Verskul's cracked skull still remained there on the ground next to the oddly undamaged Sigil. The embers in the skull's eyes were much dimmer than before, and there was a red wisp of energy slowly leaking from the liche's mouth and dissipating into the air.
Derrick gasped and nearly tripped backward as the liche's jaw fell open.
“…greater threat is coming,” Verskul hissed weakly, “Fires on the horizon… but thanks to you, I will not be here to see it…”
After that, the red embers finally died out, and all that remained of Verskul was a charred skull and a series of broken ambitions.
Derrick carefully bent down and retrieved the Sigil of the Fallen. Part of him wondered what had happened to the second Sigil, but his better sense told him that after all he'd endured today, it shouldn't be his problem.
He turned and made his way toward the stairs, but paused for a moment to gaze up to the north. As the last of the red clouds began to vanish, he couldn't help but hear Verskul's words echo one more time in his mind. The last of the crimson mists hung in the air, like fires on the horizon.
Did Verskul speak the truth? Was there another threat looming out there unseen to all?
The man shook his head. There was always another threat lurking somewhere in the world, but he didn't care now. All that mattered was that Bryn and countless other innocents were safe, for a while at least. Derrick hobbled down the stairs, leaving his concerns behind for once. [ 11:43 ]
* * *
Lord Siron stood atop a makeshift podium as he addressed the small crowd of city representatives who had been brave enough to stay at Greyhelm Tower throughout their many ordeals during the day. Flanking the envoy on either side were Elsina and Korrien, both patiently waiting for him to begin his speech.
“Lords and ladies,” Siron began, “Upon this fateful day, we have experienced a great many trials that threatened both this summit and the relations between our respective nations. Yet it is a tribute to our united resolve that we have remained here, unblinking in the face of danger and adversity.
“Even your own city's chief representative, the late Chancellor Thinder, stood by his desire for a naval alliance up to his dying breath. Therefore, in his name and in recognition of our cooperative potential, our three nations, Athkatla, Waterdeep, and Tethyr, have elected to join forces with Baldur's Gate. We shall bring to life the elite allied navy envisioned by Chancellor Thinder.”
The eyes of his listeners were glued to him in rapt attention. The ambassador had to restrain himself from smirking; the masses naively believed every forked word he said. Siron took a dramatic pause for the benefit of his audience before continuing… [ 11:45 ]
* * *
“…Though we have all experienced great losses by the events of this day, it is only our intense dedication to the wellbeing of others that these heavy sacrifices are made…”
Captain Atamir stared solemnly as Krevis' corpse was driven off in the wooden cart toward the city graveyard. All he could think about was his future. He knew what madness would one day befall him as a result of the choice he had just made. Was it worth it? Was he right to sacrifice his own life, his own sanity, all to save the life of a lone child?
He looked to the side and saw a small group of street kids laughing and playing in the street, blissfully unaware or unconcerned about the destruction and mayhem that had gripped the district mere hours ago.
“Yes,” Atamir whispered to himself, “I think it was the right choice.” [ 11:48 ]
* * *
“…New alliances and new friendships must be forged for our mutual benefit and survival. Old animosities and mistrust serve only to weaken the union that our nations may one day hope to achieve…”
Selena watched as the other clerics hoisted Cerdan's broken form onto a stretcher and began casting a few healing spells to stop his bleeding until they brought him to the nearest temple. The fall from the tower had rendered the thief's arm and a leg broken, fractured several of his ribs, and caused a large amount of blood to leak down his side. Yet the halfwit still wouldn't stop grinning at her.
“Now you owe me twice for saving your life. Feeling guilty yet for trying to arrest me?” the thief chuckled weakly.
“First I will make this clear to you,” she said, “I cannot stand thieves. You are greedy, self-centred, sneaky, and altogether terrible people…” She raised her head slightly and sighed, “But I am thankful that you saved me.”
“Thankful enough to bless me with a kiss?” he asked with a wink.
“Don't push it.”
Oh yes, Cerdan thought smugly, she likes me. [ 11:51 ]
* * *
“…But we must remain ever vigilant if we are to move forward into this new era. Age-old foes and future enemies will undoubtedly arise, and it will be our duty to overcome whatever dangers may threaten the safety and stability of our cultures…”
“Get in there, you black-hearted scum,” ordered the guard.
Dace sent a chilling glare into the man's eyes, prompting the guard to swallow nervously. The assassin smirked as he stood just outside the entrance to the city jail. He took a moment to briefly look up at the skies and enjoy the outside air one last time before he was locked away.
The assassin knew deep in his heart, however, that he would be free again. Perhaps not in a few days or a few months, perhaps not even in a few years… but like all other things, he would be overcome this setback.
There was always another day, he thought to himself as he passed inside the jail. After all, there was still much to be done… [ 11:54 ]
* * *
“…And so we leave you with these closing words: Our navy alliance shall be commissioned not for gold or power, but for the peace of our common people. With that, we bid you good morrow, for a new day rises.”
Derrick emerged from the clock tower looking ten years older and in terrible shape.
The ex-thief looked up and saw Bryn standing beside Selena, where Cerdan lay on a stretcher. Derrick hobbled over and hugged his son for the first time in the long day. Neither father nor son spoke a word, but they knew by each other's appearance that they had both been through an exhaustive series of events in the past twenty-four hours.
“He showed up just a few seconds ago,” said Selena, “We all saw the explosion, and feared you'd be dead. I wanted to assure him that–”
Derrick waved for her to be quiet, “Never mind that.” Holding his son's hand for support, the ex-thief reached into his pockets and brought out the Sigil and the Wizard's Box. “Verskul's physical form is destroyed and his spell disrupted. I want you to take these artifacts. His phylactery is currently nullified inside the box. I trust your church would have the resources to destroy it?”
“It may take a few weeks to organize everything, but I'll see to it personally,” Selena said as she accepted the objects, “What about this Sigil?”
“Verskul said it had power from some god. Destroying it like he wanted might not have the best effect on the city.” He gestured at the remnants of the red clouds, “Just be careful what you do with it.”
“Maybe you should also come with us back to the tower. The remaining clerics can probably heal your wounds.”
Derrick shook his head and muttered, “I'll pass a temple on my own way home.”
Something in his tone kept Selena from pressing further. The elven cleric simply nodded and stepped aside so Derrick could speak to Cerdan, who was still on the stretcher waiting to be carried away.
“Well, just like old times, eh Blade?” said the thief, smiling as usual to cover up the pain he was feeling in his extremities.
Derrick was in a less celebratory mood, “I appreciate all the help you gave me today.” He paused and put a hand on Bryn's shoulder, then turned back to Cerdan. “But I hope you won't take it the wrong way when I say that I never want to hear from you or the thieves' guild ever again.”
Flashing a weak grin at both father and son, Cerdan simply said, “Keep safe out there, Derrick.”
“I always do.”
With that, Derrick took his son by the hand, and they walked to the south, following the road back home. It was, after all, a brand new day. So who knew what surprises it would hold in store for them?
[ 12:00 ] Midday
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