The Guardians of London: Third Echelon CHAPTER THREE [6 Slots Open]

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Two slumping, ugly ghouls were dragging Bastian down the stairs into the dungeon where he was unceremoniously tossed in with the rest of the Guardians. The ghouls were led by chains on their necks which were held by a shadowy beast wearing a silver mask in black metal armor and black cloak. The ghouls mewled and drooled as the creature led them silently away while Bastian lay on his side, shivering a little.
His eyes held a shocked expression, his face was pallid and he slowly curled into the fetal position.

From the charnel pit, Lurker's voice rumbled. "I can sense a troubled life aura. Who is there? Are they dying?"
"It's Bastian and I don't know..." said Breaker, kneeling down to look at him. She let out one finger to touch his and he flinched while his magical energy pulsed weakly trying to defend him. Some coils of orange energy emerged and flopped useless on the ground before dissipating.
"I feel unbalanced energies flowing...a necromancer's fingers have drained him of his power...Bastian, If you can hear me you need to focus on healing the scar that's leaking your energy. Otherwise your magic will leave you. Permanently." said Lurker, trying to turn his head.
"Let it bleed out..." Bastian mumbled. "It couldn't save me."

"Oi!" Pyotr called down to Bastian from a cage dangling and swaying a bit from above, "You do not look so well, comrade. I have seen happier faces on the dead. And not the peaceful dead either, the ones that look like they died painful and terrible death. Probably how we will look after we are through in this place. Oh, and do not ask me how I got here, for I have no idea myself. Heh, the wonders of involuntarily travelling through space time - one minute I was in front of a plate of steaming pelmeny, piled high next to a glass of mors, then I was here. In this cage. I suppose it is just as well, if it had been a few minutes later my meal would be over you people down there. The smell of this place is making me noxious, which is probably why I find myself rambling on for fear of losing what little I do have in my stomach if I stop. God, I do wish I had my vodka..."

Anastasia was hung in a cage over the charnel pit, passed out from fear. Bastian rolled over to see Pytor, the poor lad had experienced a minor leap through time and ended up in a cage in the Dark Skull's dungeons. Bastian wished he had such luck, to have what had happened not have happened. He felt violated in every way it was possible to be violated.
The fingers that had bled his energy out left dirty scars on his stomach which he now clutched, too afraid to minister.
Bastian didn't want to talk, he just wanted to cry and disappear into nothingness.

It was Mohammed's voice that made him open his eyes again, blurred by tears his face was close.
"Bastian, my friend. Whatever she has done to you, know that when we escape the full strength of Allah will come down upon us and give us the strength to smite this dark demon for all she has done...not only to you but to everyone."
Bastian blinked and said "If we escape."
"No, my friend. We *will* escape. Because Allah is on our side."
"How could you know that, Mohammed? The Light doesn't speak to you."
"It does it you look for it. The Light shows us little signs of it's favor here and there. Allah is always there and he always supports all those who do good and punishes those who commit evil deeds. We will escape and bring our vengeance down because Allah is behind us and with him, everything is possible."
"I may not share your enthusiasm, but I thank you for the sentiment..."
Mohammed smiled and stood up, eyes shifting to the low glow to show Zjar'q was in control.
"If I awaken my full daemon form, I may be able to overpower the dungeon keeper and his minions...but I can't rend these bars. They are made of tough metal even my daemon claws cannot scar."

Hadrian, who sat quietly the entire time, stood up in his cage snarling.
"Bah! If there was any god, we wouldn't be here in the first place!' He growled.
He began to smash his fists into the bars, attempting to break them. With every hit, a loud clang echoed all around the room. After a few minutes of this, he eventually called out.
He hid his hand behind his back and began gathering the energy needed to control the dungeon keeper.

Rena was a little worried by what Hadrian was doing, but she just allowed him to continue. Maybe he would be able to get all of them out of there. She thought it was a small chance but at the moment she knew it was better than no chance at all. Giggling a little bit, she said. "I don't think they would really take that as an insult though. They might even think of it as a compliment!" She was trying hard to keep herself cheerful despite the situation.

There was a thump somewhere out of view of them all...and in slid a shadowy being. It was half snake and half man, the way it slithered and hissed. "You rang, madame?" and it laughed a little at its own joke.
"Oh don't even try, my mind is far too alien for your pitiful magics to fathom. Actually, that kind of tickles..." and here the creature flinched and itched the back of its head.
The creature spat some sort of foul liquid at Hadrian, not venom but like an alien loogie. It was light brown and smelled of dead things. It began to slither away crooning towards some awkward looking ghouls whose arms and legs were twisted horribly and began to tend to them.

From down the corridor came a clanking and cluttering. Four large beasts shuffled down the hallway, carrying something large and white. There movement was slow, clearly their burden was heavy.

"Took nigh twenty to bring him down. We lost at least a dozen. He was a fighter..."
From within the cell, the groups ears perked up.
"Was..." Another snorted.
"This armor will fetch a high price. Rare stuff, especially since they are an endangered species."
Another chuckled.
The group looked in horror as Ruebens limp body was hauled past.
Bastian looked in despair, hoping to see some sign of life, some flicker of life, a marking upon the mask change. Nothing but his own reflection stared back. Sure enough, two large punctures in the armor could be seen. Blood could be seen staining the silver around them.
"How'd he bite the dust then?" Another guard asked in passing.
"We found him in the sewer, trying to get in, we waited till we got reinforcements and then rushed him..."
The chatter of the group faded out of earshot as they faded out of sight.
"Sure he is dead?"
"Yeah, checked his pulse and everything. His heart stopped beating half an hour ago...."

From within the cell, Zjar'q raged. His skin became smooth and black like obsidian and his back erupted with large wings made of the same sleek blackness, the membranes foggy and white like frosted glass. His head was now on a narrow, elongated neck and shaped like a sharp-nosed dragon. His eyes were burning bright as his sharp talons struck at the metal, his blades emerging as white hot daggers held in two other arms protruding from his sides.
Zjar'q gnashed his teeth and cursed at the creatures as they threw Reuben's body into the charnel pit with Lurker and the mass of ghouls and other corpses.
Bastian didn't know Acrypha but what Zjar'q was saying was obviously laced with anger and hatred.
"Come closer and let me tear your throat out!" Zjar'q's fully daemon form barked out, gripping the bars with his talons.

Bastian crawled over to the edge of the cage to look as Reuben's crumpled form. He started to cry; he had been a hero to the end...he began to to feel more sick and his stomach still felt like it was leaking blood and magical energy. Breaker went over to him and pressed her hands to his stomach, channeling the water in her small waterskin to help ease the wound.
The guards left, their clanking metal armor covering the sound of creaking bones...there was only the ugly black serpent creature carefully sewing at a ghoul, attaching a third arm to its torso. Zjar'q snarled and shook at the bars, breathing a little bit of flame on the bars...eyes narrowed in anger.

Hadrian, after wiping off the spit off of his face, laughed mirthlessly.

"It looks like five other people just joined my shit list today." His arm was enveloped in a pulsing red energy. He lifted his arm and pointed it at the serpent. "You first." A red tendril shot out from his finger and entered the serpents head. It stopped it's stitch work and turned to face Hadrian.

It let out a threatening hiss, showing off its fangs. "What did you do to me, mongrel?
Hadrian smirked. "This." His eyes flashed brightly for a second, before dying down.
The serpent lunged at Hadrian, before stopping and clutching at his head. It cried out in pain, falling onto the floor and shaking uncontrollably. It's writhing continued for a few minutes, until all movement ceased completely.

"Remind me in the near future to never get on the bad side of a Sanguinimancer..." muttered Breaker. Zjar'q kept slashing at the bars and breathing fire on them, to little effect...
"This metal is thick and strong, I will need time to weaken it."

A short time later, more of the beasts arrived and retrieved the limp body.
"They want to examine the armor." They left without another solitary word.

Elsewhere in the maze of corridors and hallways, the boy lay on an autopsy table. Three of the beasts were examining the mechanisms of the wrist blades. The other weapons laid out on a table against the wall. One of them reported to his superior, a minor general amongst the enemies ranks.

"The mask has no eye holes, it is used as a scrying orb. This armor was meant for use by imperiomancers."
"What of the markings?"
"Multiple languages, and no apparent theme to what is written that we can decipher."
"Good, continue you-"
The general was cut off by the startled shout of the examiner. The body had suddenly jerked, as if some unseen force had grabbed its chest and pulled it sharply upward.
A silence followed as the four stared at the once again limp form.
"What was that?"
"I-... I dont know..."
Apprehension was so thick in the air it could be cut with a knife.
After a few moments, they dropped their guard, breathing sighs of relief.
"Well, any-"
"GAAAHHHH!" Suddenly a shout resonated from under the mask and the figure reared up and brought the wrist blades into the two closest foes. Quickly getting off the table he rushed the third before he could react. As his body fell limp to the floor. The general backed into the corner, pitifully grasping for his weapon.
"What the fuck?!!?!"
The suit of armor merely looked for a second then turned, grabbed a sword off the table and began to corner the beast.
"What the fuck? How?!?!!" In a flash a sword was run through his leg, and before he could retaliate his own weapon was ripped from his hands. The iron clad man crouched, starring at him.
"What are you going t-to... do?"
"Im going to send you on a little trip..."
The beast laughed. "To hell?"
A muffled laugh was returned, one of an almost truly hysterical nature as the man shook his head.
"No, no, no... you have no sense of creativity... I dont want to send you to hell... Actually.. the big man upstairs wants a word with you... and he isnt happy.... please step into his office."
Suddenly the sword was plunged into his chest. The beast howled in pain. As the life faded from him, the ironclad one began to gather his weapons...
"Goddamn you Rueben...."
The figure only turned his head as he stopped for a moment "Who the hell said I was Rueben?"

Meanwhile back in the cells, after another guard had bashed at Hadrians face with the blunt end of his pole arm as punishment for retaliation. All was quiet again. Nobody had noticed a guard in the chair slouched, apparently sleeping. Pyotr had begun swaying his head while humming a song in his own tongue. With one of the turns of his head he suddenly did a double take. Tied to a bar in his cage was a small flask. A note tied to it with scrawled handwriting.

Suddenly one of the guardians looked up and gave a startled "WOAH!"
Crouched on top of the cage, elbows resting on his knees was Rueben.
"Hey there fellas..." He gave a small wave. But the voice was one only Bastian recognized.

"Nick..." said Bastian, crawling to a sitting position as Breaker continued to mend his wounds "Is Reuben is there? Did he live?"
Kin's armored form was silent and Bastian dropped his head and shook it.
"Poor kid..."
Zjar'q was laying back. The metal of the bars hard turned out to be necromantic, able to regenerate as soon as it was cut. They had been there for three long days. Long enough that the beatings and the constant need for healing had made Breaker's water almost run out. She stood up from Bastian and went to check Hadrian's black eye, he growled as she let the little bit of water run over and around the bruise...healing it.
Another scream pierced the silence; it had been going on for a long time...there was no sense of day or night in the dungeons. The Dark Skull was giving birth and her children had rushed to her at once, leaving them in the "care" or the armored guards and the ugly ghouls they used to carry them to the torture devises.

Lurker, who had spent many hours trying to move in different ways was able to stand for small portions of time and had hobbled closer to the edge of the pit but was unable to mount it successfully. His regeneration was slow, but it was clear everyone was determined to escape.
"Just wait until I can stand..." said Lurker, kicking at the face of a ghoul to keep it from gnawing on his foot again "I'll give her something to scream about."
A few shows of power and anger from Lurker and Hadrian had them tortured the most, Hadrian especially for his creative uses of Sanguinimancy in murdering the dungeon's keepers. One of whom he had sent his entire digestive tract inverting out his mouth...another had their bones pulverised from their blood pressure being increased too far beyond their body's limit...the blood had splattered the walls then.
Rena was being protected by Zjar'q whenever he wasn't trying to break the bars...but she too had been poked, prodded, probed and examined...samples of flesh cut from various places and fluid samples removed. Currently she was sleeping, Zjar'q was siting near her in his human form but the eyes glowed with Zjar'q's light.

"Rueben achieved something me and Silas hadnt in 40 years of work. He waited until the opportune moment to infiltrate, I thought it was a suicide mission. Rueben knew it was. He blocked his thoughts from me as we entered. I had no idea what he was up to. Then as they struck him down....."

One hour ago....

Kin watching from the abyss of the mask, helpless. "GODAMMIT RUEBEN YOU FOOL!" He shouted, but his host went on undaunted. The fight was only slightly drawn out, and soon, a spear found its mark through the armor.

Suddenly Kin was thrown to the ground inside his mind. He went to stand up and as he did he saw a familiar figure sitting in his chair.
"What is going on Rueben?"
"Im done here Kin."
He took one of the cigarettes and lit it in a manner not unlike Kin would.
"Its called a game changer. I knew I couldnt get in alive, so Im not."
"Rueben, I want you to think long and hard about this-.."
"I have, and you are meant for this, this is your armor, not mine." He took the cigarette from his mouth and watched the smoke drift up.
"So you are just going to die and leave me in the armor..."
Rueben stood up and walked to Kin.
"Not exactly my friend, not exactly... just make this count..."
Suddenly he reared back and landed a kick to Kins chest. It was like gravity stopped working as Kin was hurled into the apparition of the galaxy which swirled in his mind.
He fell through time and space. Start flew by like raindrops. He fell and fell and fell... but towards what?

Soon he hit a solid floor. Another blank white space. But soon the space became filled with things, not his, not Ruebens. Two large levers protruded from the ground. One with a sign saying "me first" the other "Then me when you are ready for a shocking truth."

He pulled the first and suddenly the world changed again.

For the first time in almost a hundred years, Nicholaus Kin could feel.... at first he felt pain, two massive wounds in his body, one in the back, one in the side.

"GOODDD WHAT THE FUCKKKK!!!" he screamed in his mind. He fell to the floor, writhing in pain. But soon the pain slowly subsided... the wounds gone....

He was in a room.... he felt hands.... calloused hands... the light sound of clinking... Where was he?......

Kin looked at the second switch, realizing just what happened.
"Rueben you bastard....I can't believe it...."
With a loud crank the lever turned. Suddenly a force hit him like a hammer and knocked him to the ground yet again. He groaned... this was getting old.

Then he heard two beast like voices....
"What was that?!?!"
"I... don't know...."


The mask looked at Bastian. "For years we tried to do this thing, me and Silas. We created pure new life, and it was an incredible feat back in the day. We said, "why not transmute the living into the non, and vice versa... well my death was the first. I was sent into the mask... but Rueben.... well.."
He lifted the mask. Underneath was not a cold dead pale face, but warm, moving flesh. Rueben it was indeed...
"Rueben found a way to switch it back....." Kin looked at Bastian for the first time ever with his own eyes, not a mask.... "He left me with two gifts. He had it planned out from the beginning. He had been storing energy for weeks. The first was a burst of Light energy.... I didnt believe it at first, but the feeling was undoubtedly it and Im still not sure how, but he used it to heal the body and replenish blood in a matter of minutes. The second gift was a shock strong enough to make a heart beat once more. Although... I think he is still inside the mask... when all this is over... im going to search every nook and cranny of it.."

Kin had been looking down, but soon picked his head up. "Anyways..." He seemed suddenly full of vigor. Rubbing his hands together he continued. "Enough about my past, lets talk about your future shall we?" He looked around for a moment. "Ah!" He walked over to the guard they thought had been asleep. "Oh him? he isn't asleep, he is dead..."
In the back one of the guardians murmured something like "How did he even...?"
Kin took the keys from the body and gave it a little push causing it to fall to the floor. Walking back over the dead one, he grinned "what can I say? I still got it!"
He walked to the cell and began trying the many different keys on the lock. Each time with a disappointing "no".
Over and over he went through the key ring.
"No..... still no..... no..... no..... nope...."
"So, you are living in Ruebens body?"
"Correct-a-mundo! Look at the big brain on Bastian!"
Suddenly the door swung open. Four or five of the great beasts ran in.
"Drop the keys and move away from the door!"
Kin had only a strange smile on his face. He turned only for a moment to face the challengers. "But if I drop them I will loose my place..." He turned back and shuffled through more keys. "No.... still nothing..... no....." He turned once more. "You know, you guys really should have some marking system on these"


"All of them? Do you know how long that will take? Ill be here all afternoon. I must have at least fifteen on me." He gave a small chuckle as if a friend had told him a joke. "Besides, Ill make a mess of the place. We wouldnt want that now would we?" He winked at Bastian then whirled around and wrenched the spear being thrust at him clean from its wielders hands, then driving the wrist blade through its skull. Then the other two fell to his hand as they attempted to charge in after. The monsters last comrades watched in fearful anticipation. Kin turned, a grin wider than his shoe size on his face. "Oh dammit, you made me loose my place....No respect for my work.... none at all.

Suddenly a spear flew passed Kin, the same spear in fact that almost stabbed him. In the chaos of the moment one of the guardians reached out of the cage and pulled it in, then threw it into the neck of the second monster as it was attempting to sneak up on him. "Ah thank you my dear..." There was a loud clang as the door swung open. He offered a hand to her as she stepped out "Im sorry.... It is 'Breaker', is it not?"

With a wrenching crack, Lurker was standing up in the room after crawling out of the pit.
He slowly rotated his head 360 degrees with several wrenching pops and cracks. Rotting flesh hung from his bones and the stench of death rolled off of his body. His eyes were burning orbs of green fire. A set of green fiery wings spread out, appearing from his back where scraps of cloth from his clothing hung. With each step he shook ash and dust from the wings and his body, and it began to drip candle wax and slowly an aura of pure blood-curdling death emanated from him.
Each word spoken shook the tower to its roots, rattled through the sky as dawn approached.
Here Lurker bellowed deeply and from his mouth came a cloud of darkness coalescing into a cloud of night terrors that passed through Kin harmlessly but the guards screamed silently as their forms crumbled, their armor rusting away before their very eyes. He began to walk, his aura of sickening death surrounding and clinging to him like a cloak of disease and rot. It passed harmlessly over the Guardians and as he left the room, shrieks could be heard as creatures ran from Lurker's fully awakened anger.

"We should probably hurry...Necromancers like Lurker can keep up that state only for a short while, even if he is what he says he is..." said Bastian, standing up and clutching his chest wound. In his head, Bastian rattled off the names of the Necromancers of the Ascendency...the line of power that led from common Necromancers to the Grey Maiden.
Akrathus, Dakron, Thallidus, Mordreth, Bakuron, Eldreth the White, Oroboros the Eternal, Thanatos the Crown Prince, Aldreth the Groom, Ildreth the Bride, and the Grey Maiden...
"But wait that would mean Lurker is Aldreth, Archon of the Necromancers..."
Everyone stopped to look as Bastian.
"What? He's a non-canon Archon who created the order of Necromancers we know now. His wife was the second person to become a Necromancer but they were both supposedly killed on the pyre when Archon Geistflame declared the purge of all those who followed the heretical factions that worshiped Aldreth the Dead and Malireus the Seer...we know them now as Necromancy and Annatang..."
Again everyone stared.
"Didn't any of you pay attention when you were initiates? They taught us all this! If Aldreth the Dead never actually died it makes sense he survived by becoming Star-Born..."
Then Bastian looked at Kin and said "Lurker, if he is Aldreth the Dead and the Archon of Necromancy, has power equal to the Dark Skull. They could clash forever and never beat each other."

Rena had done her best to be passive-resistant during the past few days. She would voice her opinions and protests, but she never spoke outright against her tormentors, or actively resisted them. She had learned long ago that blatant refusal only resulted in a sore bottom, and she didn't think that these horrors would simply spank her for disobedience. Now though, she was waking up from her nap, still a little miffed that they had taken another sample from her. What stopped her from voicing her thoughts was Lurker as he went on a shadowy rampage against the enemies, followed by Bastian explaining that Lurker was the first to become a Necromancer. That meant he was the most powerful right? Looking over at Bastian, she asked. "T-the way he is now, he won't hurt us right? He's really scary right now." She was practically hiding behind Zjar'q as she waited for an answer.

"Lurker can't hurt us unless he wants to. I think he's channeling all of his fury at the Dark Skull...which means everything carrying her taint is fresh meat for him..." said Bastian, turning to look at little Rena.
Mohammed came into control again and turned to pat Rena on the head and smiled before climbing up and with a few deft strikes of his blade Pytor's cage went crashing down and slammed into the ground of the inside of the cell.

Poor Anastasia was still hanging over the charnel pit where the ghouls mangled bodies crawled around, gnawing on one another. She had been brought in the other day after spending three hours screaming inside a brazen bull...her flesh immune to the burn of the fire the pain still seared her. Something made her impervious to their attempts to kill her, a mix of Daemon and Steward made her so resistant to death she seemed immortal...

Kin looked over to Anastasia. "Yes, I almost forgot about you didn't I?" He lowered her cage and using a rope to grapple it, dragged it over and onto solid ground. Once there he unlocked the cage. She was huddled in the corner, shaking and shivering. Kin removed the mask mount completely and offered a armored hand which she shook in a weary manner.
"Ma'am, I understand things may seem strange and quite alien to you right now. But I can promise you answers if you can trust me." His demeanor was an odd mix of protectiveness yet submission to a superior.
"It hurts too much to walk..." She said weakly.
"Do you need me to carry you out?" Came Kins reply, a firm yet straightfoward question.
"I-i-think so."
"Yes ma'am." Kin said, then began to gently pick her up. She wasnt actually injured, but the stress of such pain was becoming psychosomatic and all too real in her mind.

"Bastian," he said quietly. "if those two fight forever and ever or whatever, what are the chances we can tip the scales to our favor? I don't mean to sound like im going off half cocked..." He thought for a moment. "Okay Im going off all cocked, I know."

"We just need to outnumber her. Her power apparently is in her concentration. Too many of us all at once will fray her focus...and one of our attacks might hit. The problem is without that pure conviction of faith the strikes wont cause any damage..." said Bastian.
"Technically, it's that conviction...wanting to kill them just because can't hurt them or at least can't permanently kill them. You need to have that faithful conviction."
Everyone nodded and Bastian looked around.
"What are we waiting for then, let's go save the world..."

Rena nodded her head to Bastian when he said that their attacks had to have pure conviction behind them in order to work. Staying towards the rear of the group, she said. "I'm going to free Grand Moon, and all of Faerie from the Dark Skull's grasp. No matter what, I'm going to put an end to her curse! People die when they are killed, and that's the way it should be. Raising the dead is something that shouldn't be done, at least to our people." She had a firm look in her eyes, which showed that she was speaking from her heart. There was no more fear in her eyes.

The Guardians ascended the stairs, Hadrian at the head of the pack. Loping on all fours he sniffed around at the desiccated bodies around them, slain by Lurker's fury. They reached the peak of the tower after much difficulty, Hadrian was carrying Rena on his burly shoulders by the time they reached the door at the top. It was shattered and there was the sound of fighting.

Within, Lurker was outnumbered while the Dark Skull crouched against a corner of the room, clutching a child in her arms swaddled in dark purple cloth. There were nine dark creatures of varying variety fighting Lurker, and they seemed to be failing. One had already been slain, purple blood spattered on the wall and the body of the master dungeonkeeper crumpled on the ground, a pool of blood forming around its throat and chest. The others; a heavily armored creature with a massive mace, a half-spider with a whip of green fire, a creature seemingly crusted with salt and dust with Fae-like features, a half-dragon beast with two heads, a strange beast of tentacles and madness that fought with a massive array of lightning fast swipes of its tentacles, a gray-skinned creature with no face and wearing nothing but a fancy black suit with a mass of sharp tentacles protruding from its back that swished and cut through the air and slicing into the stone, a beast made of chunky obsidian that used its burly fists and finally a strange monster that was cloaked and hooded, a bleached cow's skull protruding from under the hood. Lurker was throwing out spell after spell, forcing the creatures back and burning their flesh and slashing their bodies, blows also rained upon Lurker but he quickly regenerated. His wings singed the ceiling and in a flap he burned away the maddening mass of tentacles and eyes in a bubbling scream as it went up in flames. Lurker turned, spotted them and nodded. The Guardians looked at the children and Bastian said "Slay them first!"

Kin pointed to the creature in the suit.
"I get Frank sinatra over here..." He said
The two stepped out from their respective groups.
"Do you know who I am?" Kin asked under his mask. The two faceless figures starred as they circled one another. It only shook its head.
"Nemesis.... do you know what it means? A righteous infliction of retribution administered by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by a horrible bastard..... me" Kin grinned under the mask. Suddenly the monster rushed him, he reared on one leg, using his same side hand to stablize, and swung a bent leg into his chest, knocking the creature flat.
"Hanenmu tours langda" He said flatly, reciting the name of the move. "Get up and I can show you more."
Frank rose and tried to strike as he did. Kin landed a strike with his fist then kicked upward. "Little elephant finds his voice." His foe recovered backwards and attempted to lash out with a tentacle. Kin beat him to it, leaping at him, one knee into his gut and one elbow into his neck. "Westward wind." Without missing a beat Kin regained his footing and landed another strike. As Frank swung with a fist, he blcoked it with his right forearm, and sent his left elbow crashing into its face. "little prince learns valuable lesson."

His Muay Thai was still in top shape, as the monster he had nicknamed "Frank" was quickly learning.

Bastian drew his short sword and dived under a swing of the armored one's mace and slashed at its exposed calf. It howled and dropped the mace with a clatter, and its head exploded in a gout of green fire. With a nod from Lurker, Bastian stood up and immediately began grappling the create covered in salt. It's skin was sharp from the salt crystals and they burned as they cut into Bastian's skin. It hissed and spat a burning liquid into his face and Bastian reflectively closed his eyes and struck out with his outstretched hand and chopped the creature in the throat. It made a gagging noise and kicked him off, sending him sliding a bit before scrabbling up and leaping on him. It was midleap when Jeffrey shot its chest out from it and it careened into Bastian and splattered gore onto his chest and feet as the body came flopping down.
"Kill stealer." said Bastian with a wink, before ducking under the spider beast's whip as it cracked over his head.

Rena had decided to go after the dragon-like creature, and after surrounding her body in a wind she could use for her offensive spells, she charged at the dragon, which turned its head towards her and opened both of the head's mouth. Knowing what was coming, she dashed to the side, narrowly avoiding the streams of intense flame and bitter cold. Hiding behind a stone pillar, she grumbled and said. "This isn't going to be easy. I'll definitely win though!" She dashed once more out of her cover and pointed a hand at the dragon, sending a blast of wind at the dragon, accompanied by blades of compressed air, that cut into the beast. It didn't do much damage, but it did give the message that she was able to fight back. Hiding behind another pillar, she narrowly avoided another mix of intense heat and cold.

Bastian had his forearm buried in the spider creature as he ducked from the creature flailing arms as its innards spilled out. He turned to see the Dragon focusing on Rena and he went to turn and help but his arm was stuck in the gooey mess and he had to slowly pull his arm from the muck that was currently spilling onto the floor.

He freed himself and with his sword covered in gore he willed his magic out. It was weak but it found its mark, the tiny orange coil made the creature sneeze suddenly as it blew a gout of flame and ice instead of at Rena, at its own feet and it howled in pain. Bastian smirked and dodged an errant bolt of chronomancy which began to ricochet and bounce, a bolt of pure time energy which crumbled the stone it touched. "Watch out!" said Zjar'q, his bolt bouncing all over before connecting with Kin's target making one of its arms shrivel and become useless.

The battle continued, and Bastian saw Lurker battling with the half-dragon...attempting to gain its attention while shouting at Rena. "Your wind! Call forth a gale! Do it now!" and he began to back the creature up towards the balcony, the plan being obvious. Without wings the half-dragon would fall and die on impact with the ground.

Rena had heard Lurkers call and gasped. Why hadn't she thought of that? A blast of wind from below would send him sky high! Or rather ceiling high but still. Bringing her hands close together, she built up her magic into a condensed spell between her hands. After she had charged it sufficiently, she came out of cover and shouted. "I hope you like flying!" Pointing both of her hands at the ground under the half-dragon, the ball of wind magic shot out and impacted the ground before erupting into a huge vortex of wind, launching the half-dragon into the air and over the balcony. She didn't see what happened after due to her distance, but she did let out a small sigh before asking. "I-is it gone?"

Lurker nodded. A final blow was struck by Kin, driving a blade into the suited creature's head. It spasmed once and then lay still...purple blood pooling. Bastian stood up, arms slick with monster guts and blood. The Dark Skull stood up in her corner, inching across the wall as the Guardians prepared themselves...slowly moving towards the balcony. As she did so, she spoke to the Guardians... addressing them all, "I never asked to become a Shadow Lord, you know. Never consulted or counseled, I was simply dragged under the tide with my fellow Augurs. All we sought was insight into the future and to peer into the past so we could better know who and what we were."
"All you found, Sulerain, was darkness and corruption. You fed greedily, as did your companions, from the dark power of the Destroyer." said Lurker, flaring his green flames.
"How could we know? How could we have ever known what the Destroyer was when we did not even know the Light? We heard the words of Archemorus when he walked among young and brave to spread his knowledge. We were deaf to his words..."
"And now you are punished for all you have done. Every man slain that stood defending this world, every woman slain who dared to take up the Light's banner, every child strangled in its crib, everyone you have ever harmed cries out for vengeance. Can you hear them?" said Bastian, orange spools of energy unraveling from him and reaching out for the Dark Skull.
The Dark Skull swallowed hard and clutched her new child close, who began to whimper, while the Dark Skull's face became haunted and pale.
"It's all my fault..." whispered the Dark Skull, turning to face the sunrise.
From the dawn a bright light flared, brighter than the sun. It came from the east as the blood-red sun rose...and there was a man there, bathed in light who spoke and naught heard him as he arose...a thousand horsemen at his rear he said "The Guardians stand alone."
A horseman rode up to join him and said "Not alone..." The light, to the Guardian's eyes, began to approach. Soon it overwhelmed them and before them, in regalia holy and blessed by the Light itself was Silas. Clad in golden and white armor, eyes ablaze with golden light he spoke with power that reverberated through the whole tower.
"Sulerain, Dark Temptress!" Silas bellowed, winds buffeting them as he flapped great white feathered wings.
"Your crimes against the Great Balance have writ your judgement upon your soul. You have slain thousands in the name of your master and corrupted many more. What have you to say in your defense!"
"There is nothing I can say or do to sway you from your judgement, Archon. Just destroy me, tear me apart with agony like I know you will."
"You have no sympathy for those you have slain? No regrets for what you have done?"
"Go ahead, shame me for what I have done. I did not choose to become a scion of evil and pain! I did not choose this life! It chose me! I cannot express the pain I feel as I end each life, but I must because it is the path I walk. I could not cry for those things I have done, the sadness crushed me so that I have no more tears to spill. There is nothing now, a hollow shell of a woman driven mad by her choices and forced to suffer for her mistakes. Have no mercy, Archon, I did not assume any servant of the Light to have it. The Light is not perfect or pure, there is no mercy for one who repents even from the mouth of the abyss...only a painful death and a long eternity in oblivion."
Silas alighted on the balcony, resting his wings and letting the aura of light collapse to barely a whisper, his voice clean and without the godliness.
"I forgive you, Sulerain. Because I am not the Light, I am a man and a man forgives that which a god does not. I declare your sins absolved and your darkness lifted, the burdens you have carried so long are ended. Be at peace."

The Dark Skull bowed her head and turned to the Guardians. She laid the child in Bastian's arms, eyes wet with tears she said "Take care of him." and she kissed the babe on his pale blue forehead and said "Goodbye." and turned back to face Silas.
"May you find peace in death, Sulerain. You have earned a respite from the pain."
Silas looked over the Guardians and said to Rena "Young Avenger; this is your time." and from his belt took a shimmering blade of gold and handed it to Rena.
"Your birthright." said Silas before straightening.
"Make it quick." said the Dark Skull, her last words.
"Your judgement is passed, may Faerie be free."

Rena's eyes widened when Silas made his appearance. He was so cool looking! Her eyes were practically sparkling as he easily scolded the darkest force in Faerie as if she were a wayward child about to feel a hand of justice. A hand she personally felt every so often. Shaking that thought out of her mind, she listened as Silas brought judgement onto the Dark Skull once and for all.

What had surprised her though, was when he turned to her and presented her the golden sword to slay the Dark Skull. It was funny that she was even more surprised when he referred to her as a 'young Avenger'. That made her heart feel nice and warm since it had always been a dream of hers to become an Avenger. Taking the sword in hand, it felt natural to her, and she smiled a little. Bowing her head, she said. "Thank you Mister Silas, I'll bring justice to her right now!" She held the sword straight up and let it shine in the light before saying. "For my family, the Avengers, and the thousands of Fae that you've killed. It's time for you to face the Light, Dark Skull. Take this!" She then swung the sword in a wide slash, the blade heading straight for the Dark Skull's neck. She intended on beheading the Dark Skull so that she may never again rise to cause chaos and darkness in the world.

The Dark Skull's head rolled neatly off of her shoulders, crumbling to dust as the rest of her imploded into a pile of ash.
"It is done. Faerie is free." said Silas, locking eyes with Kin.
"You live again, friend. A tale worthy of my ears."
"I'll tell you the whole thing later, Silas." said Kin in return. Just then the tower began to rumble and split, the stone crumpling.
Bastian looked around and said "Everyone out!" and he went to run but Silas lifted them up on a disc of light and floated them away as the tower crumpled.
He held the child in his arms still; pale blue skin with little stubby horns...cute in its own way it was asleep in his arms.

When they arrived on the ridge where the swords lay, marking the divide where the Avengers had fallen pillars of light shone down and spirits stood there awaiting them, greeting Rena as a new Avenger and blessing her. Anastasia spoke to Silas, saying "Of the two sides I have finally decided on the Steward."
Silas nodded and the Illrian daemon stepped from her, a shadowy ghost which bowed as she lost the horns that she had worn proudly.
"I will join with the child, when he is old enough. I owe the Guardians that much, and this child will grow up apart from it's mother's evil"
Silas smiled and began to ascend higher and higher..."I take my leave, find me again in my sanctuary...where I shall remain. Blessings upon all of you, Faerie is free"

With the mask covering his face, he only tilted his head a bit towards Silas. The familiar muffled voice;
"Nice suit"

"Custom tailored." Silas replied with a grin.

"So, now what? Business as usual?

"We return to our world, with Faerie free there is no more need of us..." said Silas, vanishing in a beam of light. "Find me, old friend. We have much to discuss"

Bastian stood there, babe in his arms and surrounded by allies and friends. He smiled and looked down at the child, still getting a chill thinking about what had been done to him to produce this tiny helpless thing. The Guardians went back to Grand Moon in style, with fanfare and colored banners flying the flags of victory. There was a feast,then two feasts...then they were honored with awards. Of all of the honors received was little Rena's, she bowed before the old Avenger all dressed in white and was consecrated as an Avenger. The Guardians, now laden with medals and honorary titles, returned back through the portal into their world. The necromancers were waiting for them, mending the portal and keeping it stable for their return. They were guided to the outside world, where the Wind and Sail was waiting for their return.
Bastian looked back at the temple and sighed, so much had happened and so many stories needed to be told...when he approached the airship to climb up the ramp he saw Charlie waiting for him, a silly grin plastered to his face. They hugged for the first time in a long time and Bastian said "I missed you."

Kin knocked on the door to Silas quarters.
"You in?"
"Im certainly not out."
He walked in, the new body standing fresh compared to the old soul inside it. It was weird, having to assume a new identity for himself. Surely though, it would be possible to slip away and create a new life soon. Plus, Anastasia had agreed to join him at least for a short time, having her own path to forge in life.

Kin sat down and adjusted himself.
"I gotta get out of this business' I say to myself. But you just keep managing to drag me back in, don't you?"

"As I had said before, old friend, we are the only line of defense against the onslaught of darkness that is waiting for us in the Far Veil...without us...this world would falter and fail." said Silas, his voice still ringing with power.
He lifted a glass of wine and studied it "I wonder..." and he took a sip and frowned, "How unfortunate, alcohol has no effect on me..."
Silas stepped over to a statue in the rotunda of his quarters, where a large mirror was held in the arms of a blindfolded woman. Silas reached out and tapped the mirror and it shimmered, showing a roiling cloud of darkness and energy...massive red eyes showing through it.
"That, friend, is why we are here..." said Silas, scratching his neck and sending some gold dust falling to the ground.
Kin looked at the image as it roiled and hissed silently, things forming around it...hedrons of stone, metal and crystal as well as beasts of many sorts both bizarre and evil.

"It has been growing for a long time, now. The Shadow Lords have become desperate as we pick them off...and now they rush their plans and begin calling their dark master from the Primal Nether. Shadow itself, what once was the first world, is sending out its tendrils and tearing a path for the Destroyer. And that is not all..."


Elsewhere, back in was a glorious return for the Guardians who had been gone a long time. With their return, Bastian set out to adopt the child he had brought with him out to another family...and check up on his brothers and sisters. Lurker returned to his place in the Guardians, his rage no longer risen. Anastasia went and joined the Stewards of the Rhyle. After a long deliberation the Conclave emerged with a new bill of rights for all things on Earth, including the magical and the monstrous or different. Things were finally looking up.

"Well, regardless, I now have a fun new job."
"Yup, I get the great displeasure of trying to convince the Archon council to not send assassins after this new infant child that is apparently a potential harbinger of immense power. Its not that I dont think the child has a choice in his own fate, but the council will not be easily swayed, especially by what they consider to be a freak accident."
Silas took a sip. "I assume you mean yourself?"
"Yup." Kins gaze seemed to pierce into the distance as he stared off. "I get to start all over again, or something like that. They just want me out of the way until they can actually figure out what to do with me. But I get to personally train Anastasia. Not really sure where to begin with her though, her powers seem.... all over the place...."

"Born a Rhyle, joined with an Illrian...I would assume one's magic would become quite strange. As for the child Bastian saved, there is no fear to be had there. It will be raised a Guardian, it will not be told what it is at first...but it will dsicover that in time. There will be some difficulty, but the child will understand their place and will take part in the final battle."
said Silas.

"How do you know so much?" asked Kin, sitting down and taking out his pipe.

"When your mind is so full of images...the past and the present and the future...I know the exact moment I am going to die, you know. It's what being me entails now...I'm a demigod now and that means my burdens are stranger than ever."

"Well in the coming years I hope to keep your feet on the ground. Any new projects in mind?"

"Yes, I would like to look into something which seems to occur with these strange crystals i've discovered...perhaps find a use for them. As fas as I can tell they make excellent traps for the energy of the soul...much more so than the lesser ether crystals I used in the Mara. Perhaps we could improve them?"

"Soul trapping." Kin began to stuff a pinch of tobacco in the bowl. "Tricky business, not my specialty. But I know that its risky. Soul essence doesn't like being told what to do. Most of the time it turns maleficent, resentful. The stuff doesnt like being kept from the natural order. You kill a man, he dies, the soul departs, the stench remains."
He stopped for a second. "Okay im sorry, but I dont even know what school of magic Anastasia follows..... did I miss something?"

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