Image by Dan Slider
A smoldering city nurses itself back to health. Rubble is gathered, corpses are piled, fires are smothered. Seven days ago, Meridas was beset upon by a horde of foul beasts which forced its way through the gates and into the vulnerable core. They tore people apart. Homes that held hundreds of generations were reduced to piles of rocks and bone. An all-out war for survival was fought using every man, woman and child available. It was brutal, bloody, and desperate. The Meridans fought with all their might, for they knew that if they faltered, there would be nothing left to fight for. Many were killed.
But not all.
And as the survivors cobble together the shattered remains of their empire, six distinguished heroes kneel before their king. The throne room is massive, the roof suspended by three colossal stone pillars. Beside the emaciated king stands a man clad in silver armor, his shield emblazoned with the blood red insignia of an ancient and revered order.
"You have all been summoned because we can no longer afford to sit and wait. The beasts have shown me that we are living on borrowed time. One way or another, we will be overtaken eventually."
He inspects the assembled heroes more closely. His family's faithful shield and sword, clad in black and whose eyes were concealed, as befit her nature. The burned Warrior, who has tasted shame once and glory twice, reunited once more with his sword. The pale, robed scholar with his trusty automaton, soon to taste knowledge known to none before him. The wise and wild monk, whose peaceful hand would guide the party through the troubles before them. The young Knight, in shining, golden armor, soon to abandon her charge. And finally, the half-machine, whose tortured past would yet haunt her.
"Unless we act now." The king gestures towards Dackord. "The honorable Nevvar are nearing their goal of ending this curse upon mankind, and we must help to give that final push. Your valor in combat and tactics make you invaluable assets, and we must concentrate on ending Our Lord. You are now to be considered initiates into the Nevvar order. Dackord warns me that time is of the essence, and as such, your necessary belongings have been collected, and await you outside. I also grant you food, medicine, and coin to aid you on your journey."
The king stands, and delivers words that rumble through the very bones of the assembled six. "You have all served to preserve the balance. You are exemplary citizens, and Meridas will miss you. Pillars guide you."
And with that, the seven were off. Dackord would permit no goodbyes: time was short, and the path was long. They were met with fanfare and cheering as they left the city, the abused denizens eager to see their troubles ended with swift retribution.
The journey through the twisted trees was uneventful. The invasion had had that effect; the beasts had given all they had in their offensive, and their population was, for the moment, decimated. But it would not last. By the time the wilds had thinned and the party had found themselves in the barren wastes surrounding their home, they could no longer see the golden towers of Meridas.
Everything they knew was behind them, and instead, they were faced with a new and frightening responsibility.
Only they can end this age of trials.
Image by "VityaR83", DeviantArt
The horses' hooves pounded against the earth and the sun slid down across the horizon. When the world was shrouded in darkness, the party dropped onto solid ground and set up camp. With the tents erect and the group huddled around the flames, Dackord spoke.
"It is time to lay down ground rules." Dackord's voice rumbled with authority. "First, I know of Meridas' strict social hierarchy. That is no longer applicable. You are all initiates into my order, and as such, you are all equals as of now, and you all answer to me. This means that our slave friend here is now our free friend. Second, always keep in mind the objective. We are on a quest to slay... "The Lord," and at times, you may lose sight of this. You cannot allow yourself to forget. It is paramount that we achieve our mission quickly, for reasons I will explain in due time. Third, as brothers and sisters in arms, we must never separate ourselves. The world is far too dangerous for us to divide the group."
Dackord's worn, brown clothing, his sagging eyes and drooping posture convey a weariness not befitting a warrior of his stature. He crouches silently as the flames crackle and consume the wood beneath it.
Edwyn sat silently on a flat-topped stone beside the fire as he rummaged through his pack that rested between his feet. The Scholar listened intently to the words of Dackord. While he spoke, Edwyn withdrew and assembled a collapsed lantern along with a small oil lamp with a wick. The tiny lamp had thin, winding grooves along its side which allowed it to be screwed through the base of the lantern to be held firm after lighting. Light shone bright through the magnified lens on the front of the portable lantern which Edwyn quickly handed off to Percy. The automaton grasped the lantern firmly and shone it on on of its arm sockets for its owner to inspect. Edwyn looked very closely at the casing of the ball joint and could clearly see dirt caked into the crevices.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Goodness, Percy," said Edwyn softly as he rotated the joint's casing. By then Dackord had finished his speech and a short silence fell around the fire. "You're enjoying the outdoors a bit much, don't you think? The very least you could've done was avoid at least one of the mud puddles, couldn't you?"
Percy turned his eye lens to the ground in mild shame and emitted a disheartened whir, remarking in his tinny voice, "Yes..."
"It's quite alright," Edwyn assured the automaton. "We'll just have to be extra careful next time, won't we?"
Percy looked up at Edwyn and shifted his lens up and down in his fashion of nodding in agreement. "Yes, yes. Careful."
"Good. Now," said Edwyn, holding out his hand, "wire brush, if you'll please."
A small compartment opened up on Percy's hull, which was emptied of the small brush it contained by the automaton's free hand. The compartment shut just as swiftly as it had opened now that the brush was in Edwyn's hand. The Scholar put his hands to work immediatey, one using the brush to remove the dirt and miniscule rock fragments while the other rotated the arm as necessary. He hadn't the intention of striking up a conversation with the rest of the band of traveler's, though that was probably to be expected considering his nature.
Calden sat in his tent, half-listening to the empty words spoken by the man calling himself their leader. "You are all initiates into my order, and as such, you are all equals as of now." Like that was going to happen, the Caste system had been instilled in these people since birth. There's always someone more worse off then you, and if you're Castless, then thats the insects you step on underfoot.
Calden knew this expedition was pointless, how do you kill "The Lord"? The one who shaped this world, when you struggle to hold back a siege from mindless Beasts. The whole thing was a joke. He had only accepted the offer to come on this journey becuase they were going to far off lands, places he couldn't reach on his own, places where his bear spirit could be.
A knight, a scholar whith his machine, a monk, a mad woman and someone whose caste he couldn't make out, he didn't want to talk with any of these people so he decided to look through his pack instead. His armour was blackened from fire damage but had held up well during the Invasion, so he had seen no reason to have it repaired. His sword and daggers needed shapening but he could do that that night. The biggest dissapointed was that he was a couple of his pistols he kept stashed away in his house were missing.
"I guess some things can be a bit to well hidden" he thought as a wry smile passed quickly over his lips.
Arala listened intently to Dackord's ground rules. It wouldn't do to get on his bad side so soon in the journey. The rules should be simple enough to follow. She thought. I hadn't much planned on interacting too much with the others anyway.
As soon as he was finished explaining his expectations, she walked to the edge of the encampment and began practicing a kata designed to help relax the body and mind. The easy forms and graceful movements helped her find focus, making it easier to slip into her meditation. Force of habit to do it before bed at this point, and she saw no reason to break that habit yet.
Arala wasn't entirely sure what the scholar had brought the automaton for, but hopefully it'd show it's usefulness soon enough. As for the Warrior, he looked to be able to handle his blade, but showed the bleakness of a man who had been excommunicated from his caste. The half machine woman, she could tell would end up being trouble, and the fourth member had her guessing. Since there were no visible caste markings, Arala assumed the girl was casteless, but she carried herself with enough distinction that it didn't seem likely.
Lenora listened to the old man's speech, picking at the fire with her mechanical arm. Apparently this little group were all equals now, even though Meridas instilled the Caste system from birth. She was nervous. Lenora knew she was a danger to herself and others, she knew ever since she saw the look in Leon's eyes after her rampage. Would this group accept her? Would everyone really stand as equals? It was too soon to answer this questions. She looked down at her metal arm, the fingers now glowed white hot. Lenora plunged the hand into the ground, in an effort to push away her anxieties.
"Not now! When there are bandits or Beasts surrounding us you can panic. Not now!" She thought.
Lenora only had accepted this quest so that she would be accepted by Meridas as a hero and then be accepted by Leon, to prove him and the world she was more than just a mad ex-slave machine woman. More than a broken doll. And when the time came, when The Lord was at her mercy; she would ask Him for His kindness. To heal wounds both physical and mental. He had created this land, surely He was capable of that too. And after all, He would be begging for her kindness after she started with Him.
She eyed the Steam Knight. Lenora was grateful of this new-laden equally - Steam Knights saw her 'augmentations' as weapons and she was forced to tell her sad tale (minus the murder, of course.) which pained her. Most of the time, they put her in a cell anyway. She would have to get the Scholar to teach her how to write. Her tongue was spared the ordeal, but Lenora found talking difficult. The nuances of bottom lip movement in speech lost to her.
She waited for the group to move on. Spending more time here would reap no benefits.
Farah leaned against a tree, pulling her goggles and mask off, allowing her fiery red hair to spill down her back, her eyes to shine in the darkness.
Equals? she pondered to herself, a casteless burnt warrior, a machine woman, a scholar with a machine, a knight, eyeing each of the group in turn, her eyes caught on the knight, practising movements at the camp edge, wondering what she was doing before turning back to the rest, a monk and an old warrior her eyes turned quickly to the man, slumped before the flames, he will lead us to The Lord? she thought scornfully, if I live through this mission, I'll count myself lucky.
Farah tore her eyes away from the group, focusing instead on the woods around them, watching for any movements that may be attracted by the fire and lantern that the scholar had set up. Silently, she hoped to find some ingredients that could be used to keep her poisons stocked up, just incase.
Artus saw that the group was in no mood to chat. She felt light as air when dressed in her smooth silks instead of the towering suit of armor. There had been a nip in the air since they passed the edge of the wilds -- fewer trees to block the wind. She stared off into the distance to the left of the machine woman, attempting to mask her suspicions. Casteless had been nothing but trouble in her experience, except when put on a leash. But Dackord wanted the machine free, and so Artus would allow it, but not without hesitation. Calden was a Warrior by birth, so he was alright.
The Scout looked rather tense, probably watching for more beasts. A pointless effort; we're beyond the wilds, and the beasts have suffered a great blow. Still, it's nice to know someone's watching out.
She turned her attention towards Dackord. "Sir, what is the plan? You haven't even told us where we're going, much less how we're supposed to deal with The Lord if we find him."
Dackord stretched his hands out to better absorb the heat. He replied, "Our destination is a Grainheart city. Don't know what it was called before the Age of Trials, but now, folks call it, 'The Tangle.' Place is a mess, but it does have one--"
He was interrupted as the ground below Artus erupted in dust. The logs on the fire were scattered. When the dust settled and light was reestablished, the party found that Artus was now inside a pit just under twice her size. She was sprawled across the bottom of the pit, dazed. She stood up and brushed herself off, discovering several bruises and tears in the process. She reached upwards, tried to jump, but couldn't quite get a hold of the ledge.
"Could someone get me out of here?" she exclaimed, frustrated and confused.
Edwyn noticed a swift movement on the edges of his vision and when he looked to find just what had moved, he could see that it was no longer there. Rather, a pit seemed to have appear in its stead and soon a voice called out from within.
"Could someone get me out of here?"
"Oh dear," Edwyn muttered, looking curiously at the edge of the pit. "Seems like somebody found some new sleeping quarters, eh, Percy? C'mon, let's see what we can do."
Edwyn put the wire brush in one of his robe's pockets and stood from his stone seat. Approaching the pit cautiously with Percy right beside him, shining the lantern inside. "One moment, please. We'll have you out of your burrow shortly. Alright, Percy. Time to be of assistance."
Percy clicked eagerly as he handed the lantern off to Edwyn, then looked down from the edge. He gripped the edge with his leg extentions and lowered himself until he was suspended by his legs. The shutter on his eye lens blinked before focusing on his target, the damsel in distress, as it were. Stretching out his arms, a soft hiss coming from the hydraulics, he called out very basic and very clear instructions. "Help. Hand-hand."
Calden couldn't help but be suspicious of the woman wearing the mask, she had something to hide and he knew it. He sat there quietly trying to figure it out as he slowly sharpened his blade. He hated not knowing all the information, it had costed him once and he wasn't about to let it happen again.
He started to unpack his equipment, so he could start checking it for any faults. He didn't have as many as he flintlock pistols he would've liked to have, but the powder was dry and they were all loaded, ready to be fired at a moments notice. It was when he was getting ready to clean his armour that the woman took her mask off.
So, she's a scout then, eh?
Still something didn't sit right in his gut, she was too composed, too sure off herself. The scouts he had known were wild and restless. Itching to get beck into the wild, she however looked tense waiting for something to come out of the forest. Any scout worth his salt knew that after a large attack like this Beasts wouldn't attack, they needed tome to regroup.
I'll have to keep an on eye that one
A few moments later he felt the ground below him shudder and saw it give way. It took hime a few moments to figure out what was missing from the picture. Dackord, the Scholar, the Mad Woman, the Monk and the "Scout" were all still there.
"Could someone get me out of here?"
It was the Knight. He was about to tell someone the get a rope and help the girl out - if only so she would shut up - but he saw that the Machine was already at it.
At least it's good for something
Arala was interrupted from her meditation by the sound of someone falling into a pit. Odd... This campsite looked fairly smooth. She thought, surprised that Dackord would choose a campsite with that potential threat.
"Could someone get me out of here?"
She had just began to turn around when she heard Artus ask for help. By the time she made it over, Edwyn had already had his automaton working to fish Artus out. Knowing that a fall like that could cause injury, Arala knelt at the edge of the pit. "Are you injured?" She asked, a bit of concern creeping into her voice.
Artus took hold of "Percy" and scrambled out of the pit before scrambling to her feet. She wasn't sure how to respond to the machine, so she just patted it as if it were a dog. "I'm fine, just some scrapes and bruises," she replied to Arala. Her tunic was torn down the sleeve, and she frowned in disappointment. The cloth was of fine make, if a bit dirty, and there was no way she would get it back the way it was.
Dackord seemed almost uninterested in the sudden shift in terrain. "Curse this age. I'll finish informing you all of the specifics of our mission in the morning, but we're going to take a bit of a detour before heading to Grainheart. For now, everyone should get some shut-eye," he commanded before retiring to his tent.
When the golden sun shined above a desolate wasteland, the travelers awoke. They gathered their gear and supplies, Dackord insisting they be prepared for combat. The seven rode East, armed to the teeth, and found themselves at a massive structure embedded partially into a cliffside, no doubt not its original position. The doorway was submerged in earth, and so the group would have to enter through a hole in the roof.
"As I'm sure Beaumont has realized by now, we find ourselves at an ancient Meridan library. My hope is that we will find some relevant knowledge," explained Dackord as he fastened a rope to a nearby rock and draped it down into the gap in the ceiling.
The party climbed downwards, some more gracefully than others, and found stunningly magnificent architecture, with light pouring in through stained glass windows of many mythic figures from Meridan folklore. Proud images of great Cafka leaders, tinted with gold, and portraits of various masters from the five castes. But burned books cluttered the shelves, and the floor was covered in soot. Dackord cursed under his breath.
"We're splitting up to search the library. Edwyn and Lenora, take the downward staircase over there. Calden and Arala, check the balcony above us. Artus and Farah, search the Eastern passage. I'll take the East. If a book still has words in it, it's good enough, and let's be quick. We're losing daylight," Dackord ordered, before taking off down a lonely hallway on his own. He doubted there would be any books in good condition; this damage wasn't natural, and whoever caused it was determined.
Calden and Arala found nothing but burnt pages. While Artus admired a statuette, Farah stumbled onto a partially torn book on the Steam Assassin caste. Lenora and Edwyn found themselves in a stiflingly dark chamber. As they searched, they heard breaking glass from down a hallway.
The night before...
When Artus patted Percy, the automaton merely repeated the gesture by tapping a finger atop his shell, a little uncertain as to meaning behind the gesture. The little machine looked up at Edwyn and gently pulled on his robes to grasp his attention before bringing the matter to light. "Question: Good?"
"Yes, of course, Percy," Edwyn replied, smiling with pride in his creation. "You did very good, and I'm very proud of you."
Percy emitted a series of clicks and whirs as he was expressing his delight to hear such things.
"Alright, Percy," said Edwyn as he began heading back to his sitting rock, holding the lantern at his side. "We need to finish cleaning you up, then turn in for the night."
At the library...
The sound of breaking glass forced Edwyn to turn his lantern and his gaze towards the source of the sound. In the dim chamber, the acoustics made it difficult to pinpoint exactly where the sound came from, though the Scholar was certain of the direction from which the shattering glass resonated.
"Percy, front and center," whispered Edwyn, to which Percy responded with eager clicking. "Lenora, stay close."
Slowly, the automaton made its way to one of the hallways with Edwyn following closely behind. The Scholar occasionally looked back to see if Lenora was following him as instructed though kept the lantern shining ahead of them.
"Percy, front and center," whispered Edwyn, to which Percy responded with eager clicking. "Lenora, stay close."
"yEs" Lenora said, her voice garbled by metal, "SeE aNyThInG?"
That was a joke, they couldn't see anything outside the radius of light. It was just like the Scholar to send his robot into the fore. One would think he relies on it too much. Holding the lantern was dull work. Lenora thought the automaton would be more suited to such menial tasks, but no. She sighed. She was only doing this to gain favour with Edwyn, and if she did anything else, it would be put down to her madness. The darkness was only slightly subdued by the lantern. Those sounds could be Beasts, bandits, or well... anything. Lenora didn't like being in the dark. Too much chance of an ambush and she was on point with only one arm free.
It had better be rats. She could deal with rats.
Upon examining the book, Farah threw her head back, exasperated.
"Artus! Come here!" she yelled, turning the book over in her hands, some of the words made sense to her, "The Cafka Guard: Steam Assassins" read the title, but other than those, many words twisted and turned themselves in her mind, making no sense at all.
I hope the knight can read, lest I'm going to need to carry this back to the scholar and his machine, she sighed silently in the dark.
A faint sound echoed its way through the library, barely reaching Farah's ears but nevertheless she hung her head, "I hope that's just my colleagues dropping something," she muttered, waiting the knight to approach her.
Artus was inspecting a stained glass window with the image of a monk engulfed in fire. "Wow, this must be the Master Monk Rein. If they were still honoring him, this library must be from before even the collapse of the empire," she mused. When she heard the sound of shattering glass, she shook her head. They had better not be smashing up these windows; they're absolutely priceless!
"Artus! Come here!"
"A-ha! You found a book! Nice work, Dackord will be pleased," she exclaimed with excitement. But what is a Steam Assassin? She tore herself from her window and softly pried the book away from Farah, not wanting to insult her, but knowing that the Scout could not read. She slipped off one of her gloves so as not to tear the pages accidentally, and began to read. Some of the pages disintegrated at her touch; they were too old, nothing could be done. A few others survived, however. The inside of the cover read, "FOR FORBIDDEN SECTION ONLY." She read aloud, "The Steam Assassins hide their true caste behind the mark of another. The Assassin marking repr... It cuts off there. Let's see... "They are servants to the Cafka, who... -nd to kill their enemies without recourse. The Steam Assassin caste remains hidden to prevent their assassinations from being linked to the Cafka."
Artus was not pleased by this information. "The Cafka... killed their own subjects?" she pieced together the knowledge in horror. "Well, there's no way they'd do that anymore. That was probably just --"
The sound of shattering glass once again rumbled through the aged library, further down the hall from Edwyn and Lenora. "What in the Lord's name is going on down there?" Artus exclaimed, frustrated.
As Edwyn and Lenora crept down the hall with the latest crash of glass still ringing in their ears, a sickeningly sweet odor began to permeate the air. It only got darker as they moved further; clearly, this hallway went deep into the cliffside, as the windows opened only to the rock surrounding the library.
The ground begins to seemingly sparkle as they move forward. Upon closer inspection, they discovered that shards of stained glass reflected the light of the lamp. Dirt had poured in through a window and now blocked half the hallway. The stench was unbearable at this point.
And then, they spotted it.
A human corpse, with flesh still hanging precariously from the bone, lunged at Lenora with stunning force, pinning her to the glass-coated ground. It clawed at her and beat her with fists like hammers, inflicting cuts and bruises while her back was pressed against the razor sharp shards. Its screams shook the very walls and echoed throughout the ancient library, which was beginning to look like a tomb.
Calden thought it was odd they would come all this way for some books, couldn't the information Dackord wanted be found in the royal libraries? He knelt down to inspect the books that where on the floor. He tried picking up one of them but it crumbled in his hand. They had all been burnt to cinders.
"Hmm...Either this was an accident, or someone wanted to hide the knowledge that was contained in this libary. Troubling" he said thinking outloud.
As he was getting up to tell the Monk that nothing of worth would be found here, he heard the sharp, cracking sound of glass being broken below hem. Calden thought of the numerous things it could've been, more bad than good.
"C'mon" he ordered the Monk "Let's find out what's going on downstairs and see if our friends are all right.
Arala was searching through piles of scorched and burned books on the other end of the balcony from Calden.
"Hmm...Either this was an accident, or someone wanted to hide the knowledge that was contained in this libary. Troubling."
Too complete to be an accident. She thought, not feeling like answering Calden's thought. This was definitely intentional... but who would want to destroy this much knowledge?
As Arala was about to move on to the next pile of books, she heard breaking glass deeper inside the library. As she turned to tell Calden they should investigate, he beat her to the punch.
"C'mon. Let's find out what's going on downstairs and see if our friends are all right.
"I was just going to suggest the same thing." Arala said, starting deeper into the library. As they walked along, they continued to hear the crack of breaking glass. Suddenly, screams of pain and horror echoed from deep within the library. "Apparently they aren't alright!" She exclaimed, beginning to sprint deeper into the library. "Come on! They need our help!"
Lenora grimaced. Talking still hurt her, even after four years since the incident. She felt the blood pool inside her mouth. And then she spotted it. It went straight for her, pinning Lenora down on the shard-ridden ground.
This definitely wasn't a rat. She was a bad position, luckily the corpse hadn't chosen the easy prey of the Edwyn. She had a chance, he with his scholarly build didn't.
After the initial onslaught of punches and scratches, she used the lantern as a bludgeon, knocking the head of the corpse to one side. Catching her breath, she inspected her mechanical arm - only minor scratches, the corpse had mostly hit her torso. After all, that was the largest target on a human body.
"Tormented, no doubt about that" She thought "Now. Get. Off!"
Half-happy about finding a place for her rage, she began cutting up the corpse using her artificial arm while trying to maintain a stranglehold on the corpse's neck. The glass was biting into her back. Pain upon pain upon pain shot through her nerves - this couldn't last. Lenora quickly turned the tables on the corpse. And she was hungry was revenge. Lenora took joy beating out the unlife of the corpse, rotten eyes were gouged, the remains of the chest ripped apart, bones broken. It was so much fun.
Then she had an idea. She wanted to see this corpse burn...
Edwyn froze at the sight of the animated corpse and was helpless but to watch as it lunged at Lenora, knocking her to the ground. It berated her and let out a blood-curdling scream as it attacked. Lenora managed to bash its head with the lantern before slashing at the creature and then strangling it with her natural arm, sending the light clattering on the ground. Edwyn was soon pulled out of his shocked state when Percy tugged on his robes and bringing to light the urgent need for action, "Help! Help!"
Edwyn acted swiftly, rather he ordered swiftly, as he reached for the lantern that landed near his feet. Shining the light on the animated corpse, he pointed his slender forefinger at the creature and called out, "Percy, shoot the blasted thing!"
"Arm," Percy called out, and with a sharp clack, both of its hydraulic cannons were loaded with ball bearings. It trained both of its cannons on the undead, focusing on it then announcing its commands, as was protocol. "Fire!"
With a sharp hiss, the hydraulic cylinder shot the ball bearings out and launched them at the creature. The one fired from Percy's left broke through the ribs of the corpse and burst through the soft tissue within its chest cavity before lodging itself in the opposing ribs. As this was happening, the bearing fired from the automaton's right tore through the corpse's gut and disembowled it on the spot. The bearing, still having much velocity, lodged itself in the aged masonry, still covered in blood and bile.
"What in the Lord's name is going on down there?" Artus exclaimed, frustrated.
"I have no clue, but we should move," Farah growled, standing up and dusting herself off, "whatever made that kind of racket is either our companions, or something very bad," she turned her eyes to the knight, smiling darkly.
As the pair ran through the dusty library, the ashes and cinders frozen in time stirred for the first time in years. After a few minutes, the darkness overwhelmed them, the direction of the sound lost in crushing black air, that was until a cannon round tore the silence to pieces, down a small passageway to their left.
"That is not good," Atrus muttered harshly, staring down the dark hallway, "but we have no choice."
The two women dashed down the passage, weapons drawn, prepared for whatever they may face, as the lantern the scholar held began to light up the world, the half machine woman appeared, methodically destroying a corpse that had two wounds in its side created by cannon fire.
"Lenora! Edwyn! What is happening here?!" Farah screamed, attempting to make herself heard over the hissing of Lenora's mechanical arm as she tore the corpse apart.
The corpse, now more of a mangled collection of bone and flesh with its organs in a puddle on top of its victim, seemed undisturbed by the abuses it was suffering. As Lenora continued to beat the body and the bullets pierced it, its shrieks continued, and the disembodied components returned to it seemingly independently. It was healing faster than it could be injured, and soon had regained enough strength to overcome the madwoman. It smashed Lenora's head against the floor with astonishing force, dazing her, and then proceeded to clench its jaw on the mechanical arm. By the time the other four had arrived, its teeth were squashing the metal, and the machinery beneath it was beginning to falter.
Artus was frightened and repulsed by the revolting sight, but wasted no time. She removed her rifle from her belt and fired a quick shot that shattered the cranium, traveled through the jaw and neck, and lodged itself somewhere in the torso. Its jaw was shattered and the continuing blasts from Percy knocked the creature off of Lenora, and as it once again began to heal, Lenora came to her senses.
Artus began to reload her rifle. "Stay away from that thing! Don't let it get near you!" she shouted frantically.
Calden dashed down the stairs ahead of the Monk. He heard the sound of glass breaking a second time acompained with sounds of a struggle and screaming.
Curses, what could be going on down there
As he arrived, Calden finnaly saw what was causing the commotion. The Mad Woman was slashing at the corpse with her machine arm whilst the Scholars' machine fired it with a miniture cannon. The Scout was inquireing to what was going on and the Knight was shooting at it with her rifle. Calden knew only one thing could stand up to that amount of punishment.
Damn it, what are Tormeneted doing here? What would they want with a libary?
"We need to burn it!" He barked to the group "It's the only way!"
"bUrN. YeS..." Lenora said. "BURN!"
She didn't care about the blood any more. But her arms was hers and nobody steals from her. She didn't care about how the others thought of her any more, either. All that was burnt in the pits of her anger.
That thing it had quashed her arm. Good thing they had plently of spare parts, though. Years of experience that taught her how to maintain and repair it, all she needed was spare parts, peace and time. Lenora wasn't going to find any of those here. She gathered the remains of her arm, the shoulder-engine still hissing away. A question ran rings 'round her mind:
"Why did they take so long?"
The only answer: they wanted her dead, killed by that creature. Screw them. Screw them all with nuts and bolts and monkey-wrenches. She would remember this.
"We need to burn it!" He barked to the group "It's the only way!"
Yes... Fire would cleanse, fire would cleanse. Fire always cleanses. Lenora looked at the lantern and the flame flickered back. She smiled.
Arala quickly followed the warrior down the flight of stairs, and quickly surveyed the situation. Animated corpse... That makes this a tormented. She noted. Lenora appears to be somewhat the worse for wear, Edwyn's robot is shooting it with a cannon, and Artus is using her rifle. That doesn't leave much room for me to get in there without getting shot...
She saw her opening when Artus and Percy's continued barrage of rounds knocked the tormented away from Lenora. "Coming in!" Arala shouted, seizing the opportunity, while the gunners reloaded. She quickly darted between and around the others and, without slowing, delivered a flying kick to the chest of the tormented. It staggered back a few feet, before it completely forgot about the other adventurers and charged the monk.
"Hurry up with that fire!" She shouted, dodging it's attacks and striking only when the opportunity presented itself. Arala knew that if she got hit even once by the tormented, it would at best seriously injure her, at worst kill her. You can't fight the wind... She thought, and her movements became more fluid and graceful as she adopted the appropriate fighting style.
The Monk flew past Calden in instant and started fighting the tormented. Her speed was impressive, but Calden knew that after time even the wind can grow tired and slow. They needed to either destroy the body or impede but there options were limited. As far as he could tell there weren't any sources of fire within the tower, nor did he have anything on hand that he could of used to set the corpse alight himself. Their situation was growing direr by the minute, it didn't help that the Monk had taken it upon herself to fight the tormented herself. One slip up and she would gravely injured or killed. He needed to think of a plan and fast.
Then an idea came to him, if he ran the tormented through with his sword and impaled it against one of the walls, then the group could safely search for a more permanent solution.
"Monk, get of the way" He said unsheathing his sword and charged "RAAAAAAAGH!"
Farah slips her dagger from its sheath, eyeing the moving corpse warily.
These spirits have no right in life, she thought to herself darkly as the monk flew past her, attacking the corpse, slipping under its attacks and hitting occasionally.
Observing the movements of both, Farah quickly came to the conclusion that severing the tendons of the tormented host would allow them a slightly better chance at destroying the corpse safely.
Here goes nothing, she sighs to herself, darting at the corpse as it swings for the monk recklessly, slashing at the rear of its knees. The blade cuts harshly through the flesh and the undeniable snap of a tendon breaking bursts the air, the tormented quickly healed the wound it had suffered, attacking the monk fearlessly, ignoring the assassin at its heels.
As Farah stepped back to reconsider her options she heard Calden roaring from the other side of the room.
"Move!" she screamed at the monk, darting back herself to avoid the blade rushing towards them.
Arala skillfully danced and dodged around the tormented, staying just far enough ahead of it's attacks to not get hit, while still keeping it interested. Fit as she was, she knew that she'd tire eventually. Hope one of them comes up with a plan... She thought. This thing seems tireless. Dodging another swing, Arala firmly planted her foot in it's chest, causing it to stagger back another foot or so.
Hearing quiet steps coming from behind her, Arala sidestepped as the Scout slipped in low behind the tormented, swinging a blade at the back of the tormented's calf. That was annoyingly ineffective... Arala thought, as the tormented's leg momentarily weakened, but healed swiftly enough that it didn't seem to lower it's effectiveness.
Arala heard the warnings from the Scout and Warrior, but waited til the last possible moment before acting on them. She wanted the beast distracted to make whatever plan they had easier to accomplish.
Acting quickly, as the Warrior was nearly upon them, Arala leapt as high as she could, easily able to plant her foot on the creature's shoulder. Confident that it wasn't going to be able to react to her sudden change in elevation, she jumped once again, this time more than vertical, passing cleanly over the top of the Warrior as he moved in to attack the spirit-possessed corpse.
With a grace that belied the difficulty of such a maneuver, she completed her flip, settling into an easy stance behind the warrior to watch him work.
Calden charged towards the Tormented swiftly, making sure that he would impact it right on target. The monk was unwavering with her attakcs, first Calden thought that somehow she must not of heard him. However as he got closer the Scout called out to her as well yet she carried on with her assault. Either she's as mad as the half machine woman, or she's got something up her sleeve he thought. At the last possible moment just before the tip of his sword would've ripped into the Monk's back she agilely somersaulted over him.
His sword went through the Tormented stomach and he kept going. Pushing the flailing body to the other side of the room and impaled it against the wall. The reanimated corpse's entrails spilled over the sword however it quickly healed itself, bit it was unable to free itself from the blade. Good, its healing ability works in our favour he thought
"I'd like my sword back after this misadventure" He said turning towards the group "Go and find something that will bind or burn, I'll stay here and watch over it"
After the others arrived and began attacking the undead, Edwyn knew what need to be done. Frantically, he removed his pack and rummaged through its contents. He found a glass jar of lantern oil, half-full and corked. The bottle's topper was immediately removed and in its place, a scrap of bandage cloth was stuffed into the bottle's neck.
"Blasted Tormented," Edwyn muttered. "Forcing me to waste a perfectly good bottle of perfectly good oil."
"Blast. Oil." Percy recalled, listening with only the mildest of interest as he watched the Tormented get battered and slashed by the warriors. The automaton watched the fighting the way an eager adolescent might watch a sparring match between his favorite gladiators.
Edwyn tipped the bottle, bringing the amber fluid to the neck of the bottle and thoroughly soaking the cloth stopper. The Scholar wiped excess oil from his hands onto another rag he retrieved from his bag before looking up to see why the sounds of the fray had died down. Calden's sword was firmly planted through the Tormented and into the wall behind it, leaving it helpless but to lash out ineffectively. The Scholar cleared his throat as he stood with the lantern in one hand and presenting the oil bottle in the other. "Gentleman, ladies. I believe I have found a solution for our problem."
Lenora was going to enjoy this, seeing the Tormented wiggle and writhe as the flame devoured it. Soon paranoia replaced pleasure. Was the Tormented the problem to be solved by the Scholar's solution or was it be her? Would it be her in the near future? Yes, yes, first they would cripple her; the group had let the Tormented do their work for them in that regard, then the Burnt Man would impale with his sword that echoed the licks of flame, then the group would burn her like the witch many claimed her to be.
Not now, she still had time. She had time to rebuild and repair the stream-driven arm that her former master gave her, in his delusional hope that the heap of junk would adorn her and lent her its beauty. For once, she needed it now, she need its strength and its power. Back in Meridas, the arm was more of a hindrance that a help, she grew to resent it because of that. But now, she could hardly defend herself. She was scared. Lenora took refuge in a small nook that hardly held Lenora, but her thinness got her thought. It was near the site where her arm was broken, in her paranoia she quickly searched for any enemy in there and found none, not even insects. She waited for the Tormented to die and for this whole blasted thing to be over.
Edwyn cautiously opened the lantern and used the flickering flame within to light the scrap of cloth that was stuffed down the oil bottle's neck.
"Excuse me, Calden," Edwyn said, gesturing to the side with his lantern. "I think it would be best if you step aside."
Calden only nodded and hurried from the tormented. The Scholar raised the bottle in his hands and took an awkward stance, cocking his arm back to throw the fire bottle while remaining careful to not let it tip. Swiftly throwing his arm forward, he hucked the bottle at the animated corpse screeching and flailing, held firm by the sword that pierced it. The bottle smashed against the wall above the creature's shoulder, dousng it with oil that was soon aflame. The tormented's screeching grew louder as the fire engulfed it; its callused flesh blackening and shrivelling, its innards spilling out before catching fire. The creature's eyes burst from being met with the intense heat, its lips peeled back as they were being eaten away by the flames, the bile that moistened its organs quickly evaporate with loud sizzling and popping as its vitals were split open by the fire's insatiable hunger.
The flesh burned until the flames could find no meal in the corpse, and no safe harbor in the cold stone floor. They were choked out, leaving the corpse charred and smoking. Artus pounded another bullet into her rifle, panting heavily, and cautiously approached the tormented. She planted her rifle against the back of its head with a low thump and squeezed her fingers. The brittle bone gave way easily, and dry chunks of meat were scattered. Satisfied, Artus stepped back, but then noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Upon closer inspection, she found that the creature's finger was twitching. The armored woman leapt back in fright and shouted, "Lord! It's alive!"
Flesh and vaporized bile condensed back onto the body while the bones struggled and the screaming resumed. Deep slashes from blades and tunnels from bullets dissipated within an instant. As the creature rose, its eyes went wild, and it swung its arms with no target, eventually finding the assassin and tearing its fingers into her flesh. The bullets and blades that sank into the Tormented did nothing to stop its rampage.
The assassin shrieked as her jaw was ripped apart from her head, and skull pierced. By the time the creature's cries were the only noise remaining, the assassin's head was mangled beyond recognition. As it stood, it was thrown aside by a silver blur.
Dackord threw his shoulder against the creature, disorienting it momentarily. It reached for his head, but he beat the tormented to it. His bare hand was pressed against its forehead, a brilliant white light shining where the fingers made contact. Its shrieks were suddenly cut off. As Dackord dug his fingers into its flesh, the creature clung uselessly to his outstretched arm.
"Opul lin fum zheihal, utrin reiyuk," Dackord commanded. Its legs were limp now, the knight's grip the only thing holding it above the ground, but its arms still clung. The lights began to brighten, culminating in a blinding flash. While the Meridans reeled from the flash, Dackord released the corpse, which fell in a loud thump against the floor, still and silent.
Heavy breathing permeated the halls, but so did a sudden crashing noise from behind a large stone door. Dackord drew his sword and raised his shield, then whispered, "See what's inside."
Lenora watched in horror as the Tormented yet again, used its regenerative powers to stand up to the punishment the group had inflicted on it. It was like watching clay condense back into a wire skeleton as the kinks of the wire were unfurled. She cursed as she realised the folly of going toe to toe with a creature like this, a creature that could bring down empires as well as people. Forget redemption, she was part of a suicide squad and would be lucky to return back to Meridas alive. Then she watched as the group received a taste of the Tormented's vengeance. Breaking, beatings, and bruisings and more. Was this the end of the road or an echo of their enviable future battle against the Lord? Whatever the case, Lenora was a condemned woman and she in turn, condemned herself to thinking that this mission would end in failure.
It did at least, for the nervous scout as she was ripped apart by the Tormented.
She watched as Dakord appeared in a veil of white light and words that made the Tormented crumble then walk away solemnly. She crawled out of the nook, the glass stuck in her back not helping matters, to join him at the entryway where a large stone door had collapsed. Would more terrors of the dark leap of the mouth to greet them? She didn't know, couldn't know. Lenora cradled the parts of her arm as she stared at the door, trying to unlock its mysteries.
Eldred had been trapped inside the library for an week now. His supplies were dwindling and he had begun to become a bit paranoid.... With that damned tormented outside he couldn't leave the room. He had fought and killed the bastard over 15 times.. but that damned tormented didn't stay down. When the people entered he had been completely silent and he had been waiting to see what kind of things entered. He had been scared that more tormented would enter, so he was very surprised when he saw humans walking around. He had then seen the tormented attacking them out of nowhere. He had seen the entire fight through the keyhole listening to them talk and when they killed thing. He had been so happy that he had jumped in the process alerting them. He put his fingers in the bear claws and was ready to fight for his life. Nobody liked they tormented they could still be hostiles. They didn't look very military at least. And did she have an machine arm? Well that was new.
Eldred looked at his hands and decided against his former plan he would rather come in peace. He didn't now what kind of magic that was just now and, he didn't want to find out if it could also be used against humans. Time to make contact with these humans."I am human please don't shoot I come out without any weapons drawn." Well actually that was an lie I am sure I could take easily closest one using only my fist. Eldred slowly opened the door and walked outside the door with his arms in the air. To them it almost seemed like an smaller bear had entered the room. The armor jaw and muscles, height made him look a bit like an bear. "Look I am an human so there is no need to be alarmed." He said trying to smile, they smile seemed a bit off. "I have been locked in here for an entire week, I couldn't kill the tormented. So the only other option was hiding until my tribe came to help me."They didn't come..."Anyway I am Eldred Black and I would very much like permission to lower my arms." He said smiling a bit more normal.