Keramis awoke in the morning, all his joints ached from sleeping
in an awkward position. He stretched and rolled over on the
ground, but, much to his dismay, saw that the thief was not with
him. He immediately jumped to his feet and began to frantically
rummage around the room.
awakened Lianna and she got out of bed to see what Keramis was
gone,” he told her, “And so is Sylvia.”
Lakai pulled his
blanket over his head.
Raven sat up,
looking more surprised than usual.
and rubbed his eyes.
the inn inside out as only a thief was qualified to do, all the
while knowing he would find nothing. The rest stood somewhat
disoriented by this unforeseen turn of events.
“How could he
have?” the bounty hunter babbled to himself, “Where could he
Raven and Lianna
stared at him.
Kadro concluded, “That demonic girl must have taken him
Keramis threw down the last of the floorboards, growled and
turned on the mercenary. He stomped straight up to the man and
punched him squarely in the face, making it painfully clear whose
fault he thought this all was. The elf then kicked open the door
and stormed outside. In truth, he also blamed himself, but knew
there were more pressing problems to deal with at the time.
shut up, rubbing his cut cheek and averting his gaze to the
would he have gone?” Lianna asked him.
it would benefit him most,” replied the bounty hunter.
Lianna sighed and sat on a bed. Raven folded his arms and scanned the
room for any clues. Kadro scratched his head. There was a
went to tell Onedia of our plans,” the faery boy finally mumbled
from under the covers, “Because he thought we would give him to
Kadro in the end.”
didn’t you stop him?” Lianna demanded, “Or wake us up?”
lowered the blanket. “I was too scared,” he sniffled, “Lowak
hates me, and thinks I hate him. It would’ve only made things
can’t get any worse,” Raven said dryly, and went to join his
cousin outside. With an apologetic shrug at Lakai, Lianna hurried
after Trellion, and Kadro followed.
had been leaning against the outer wall and heard the entire
conversation. When his friends came out the door, he was already
gazing intently at a brightly colored flyer across the street.
do we do now?” Kadro looked around.
nodded towards the opposite wall, “It seems there’s a party at
‘Masquerade, three nights hence, all are welcome!’ ” Lianna read aloud, “How convenient. Think it’s a trap?”
course it’s a trap!” the elf chuckled, “But you have to
admit, it’s more subtle than handing us personal invitations.”
is that it?” Kadro asked, “Is the mission over?”
Keramis smirked, “I say we take the bait.”
you insane?!” the mercenary exclaimed, “You can’t walk into
a trap just like that!”
else do you propose we walk into it?”
propose we not walk into it at all!” Kadro retorted, “In fact,
I propose we leave while we can!”
can’t leave,” Raven eyed him harshly, “We can’t tell the
thousands of soldiers who are depending on us to turn around and
Lowak did tell Onedia about us,” Lianna explained, “I’m sure
that by now she has set up heightened security monitoring every
nook and cranny. You’re a wonderful thief, Keramis, but with our
meager knowledge of that castle, it would not be wise to risk
on Lossi now,” she continued, “So the only one of us who the
royal guards might recognize is Kadro.
if that traitor is there to identify us?” the mercenary spat
woman shook her head, “If we all dress up for the masquerade, we
should be able to get in without any trouble.”
why invite us?” Kadro was still reluctant.
don’t know,” Lianna said solemnly, “But it’s our safest
thoughts exactly,” Keramis agreed.
inform Queen Dinictis that there will be a small delay,” Raven
said with an acquiescent nod.
the bounty hunter gave in. “Then we should start looking for
costumes – I know just the place!” he smiled, “I need to
teach you foreigners some good Lossian fashion sense!” he added
to lighten the mood.
With two days to go before the ball, the group resolved to
live them to the fullest – after all, the future was uncertain
at best. Kadro was pleasantly surprised to see that his party
could remain so lighthearted under the circumstances. They dined
at the most expensive restaurants in town, attended shows, and
marveled at the complex architecture of Iyutel’s city center.
Keramis and Lianna were amazed at how so many people could fit in
one place. Raven was not altogether impressed, claiming that
Nastra was far more advanced, albeit at the price of forced human
of their time, of course, was spent browsing the marketplace. The
clerk watched helplessly as Keramis and Lianna chased each other
throughout his store. The isles were filled with bright,
flamboyant clothing tailored out of the most exotic materials in
the land, and the pair carelessly ripped them off the racks,
giggling at how silly and noticeable they looked in the flashy
more trained in the ways of civilized etiquette, quietly searched
through the clothing until one piece in particular caught his eye.
It was a set of light armor made of green forest dragon scales
that glistened with a violet luster. This reminded him of the
armor the Warrior Spirit had given him on their first meeting,
only that had been of black dragon scales. It also made him think
of the forest dragon who had briefly cost him his rank. Trellion
took the outfit off the rack, making a mental note to track down
that dragon and skin it alive when he returned to the North
finally picked out a comfortable outfit made of fiery red griffin
plumage, whose contours were rimmed with golden dawn feathers.
After much lecturing by Kadro about how she needed a dress to fit
in with the Lossian females, and quite a bit of cajoling from
Keramis regarding how pretty she looked in it, Lianna reluctantly
settled on an alabaster white gown inlaid with precious gemstones.
chose a simple tunic painted in pastel swirls and decked himself
with wreaths of silk flowers. Kadro was looking for something that
fit inconspicuously on top of his armor, and selected a flowing
robe with a net of crystals thrown over the fabric whose jingle
masked his noisy chain mail. The mercenary also grabbed some
masks, and a good supply of face paint, glitter, dye, and beads.
They paid the fretful shopkeeper with more than enough cash to
compensate for any damage they’ve caused.
the date of the festivity, the party spent their day getting into
costume. Raven put on a silvery, clamp-like headband that bound
his hair into a ponytail, and attached a few glass beads to his
bangs. Lianna wove colorful lace into her braided hair and adorned
it with jeweled garlands that cascaded down her back. Keramis dyed
strands of his hair violet and blue, and sprinkled it with shiny
flecks. To match his garment, Lakai tinted his locks with all the
hues of the rainbow. Kadro plaited the bottom half of his hair
into fine braids and tied the ends with beads, although he
insisted that makeup alone would render him completely
group painted their faces in extravagant splashes of color and
glitter. Keramis and Lianna helped each other draw heavy eyeliner
that stemmed off the tips of their eyes in spiraling lines. The
woman later added purple eye-shadow, a touch of pinkish blush, and
rich violet lip gloss.
wore their costumes right over their fighting gear, except for
Lakai, who had none, and Keramis, who felt he could comfortably
fight in the griffin outfit. The elves were even brave enough to
uncover their ears for the occasion. With everything ready to go,
Raven gave due notice to Dinictis and the party set out for the
The Caldorian militia already had Kayintas surrounded since
that morning and were monitoring the enemy’s activity. Upon
receiving the message from Trellion, Dinictis informed Acleito
that the war has now officially begun. The Chief Commander nodded
in solemn acknowledgement and took the Horn of Telepathy off his
belt, riding out on his dragon mount to rally the armies for
was already rather quiet so it wasn’t hard for Lynn to attract
the attention of the troops. They came from all over Caldora:
elves and humans, faeries and dwarves, dragons and tamunid, none
of them ready for war except the dark elves of Lynn’s cave and
the karaci archer-scouts. It was especially touching to see hope
in the eyes of the slaves as they proudly stood side by side with
their hereditary superiors.
great multitude of faces gazed expectantly at Acleito from the
crowd, as if it was in his power to magically make all their
worries go away. But the burden of Acleito and Lynn was the
knowledge that the outcome of the battle did not depend on them.
Yet at the same time it was their job to raise enough morale so
that the troops would perform to their fullest potential, making
the difference between victory and defeat. Acleito tried to keep
from shaking – the Chief Commander could not afford to look
noble, soldier, and slave fight as one!” he addressed the army,
“The West, East, South, and even North Forests have put their
differences aside to fight as one for a common cause!
know many of you are scared, and you have good reason to be!”
his voice faltered slightly, speaking much of his own dread, “We
are walking straight into Aloquin’s trap and no one knows what
waits on the other side. But remember, it’s only bravery when
you are afraid.”
Chief Commander paused, getting a few enthusiastic nods from the
the time being we must look past those fears,” he continued,
“Because we are fighting for something greater than ourselves.
We are fighting for our future and our Goddess! Our unity is our
strength! Never forget that.
will die this day, and you will probably not see some of your
friends again,” he said gravely, his tone escalating into a
shout, “But the memory of our victory will live on forever!”
legion erupted in a deafening uproar of patriotic cheers. Acleito
almost envied them – to think that these people could derive
such comfort from a speech orated by one more scared than they
be fine,” the Acora smiled and gave him a pat on the back.
Chief Commander smiled back weakly.
was difficult to give the order to move into Kayintas, but Acleito
forced himself to do so anyway and Lynn helped direct the militia
towards the mouth of the cave. The throng moved down from the
hills and the trees, its multiple branches flowing into one
central stream that poured into the entrance. It was no secret
that they were coming, so an ambush would be pointless. Dinictis
led the way, marching through the main chamber of Kayintas with
bold determination. Troops crowded in behind her, but the cave
didn’t even come close to fitting any reasonable fraction of the
waited for them seated atop his throne, surrounded by a handful of
henchmen. He was dressed in a black silken pants and tunic,
embroidered with the design of a serpentine, violet dragon
swimming in a sea of stars. “We meet again, my twin!” he rose
to greet her with a big, welcoming smile.
make this the last time, shall we?” she quipped.
read my mind,” the god said through his teeth.
flimsy army you got there,” Dinictis scoffed, now joined by her
two officers, “I have half of Caldora waiting outside, and here
I thought you’d put up more of a challenge.”
know me better than that!” Aloquin laughed, a glint of menace
visible in his eyes, “This is no place to wage war!” With a
wave of the wizard’s hand, the stony walls of the cave rippled
as if liquid, climbing to mind-boggling heights of mounting
tsunamis. They became coated with a thick black substance,
reminiscent of crystalline clusters, which grew in intricate
patterns suggestive of mocking faces with supple bodies that
writhed and coiled like living beings. The walls swelled as if
meaning to crush all within their reach, but then sprung far away,
leaving an open battlefield stretching from horizon to horizon. It
was big enough to contain both armies and then some.
is a place to wage war!” Aloquin declared smugly, a massive
legion of his own spread out behind him to back up his words.
gave his Queen a concerned glance, but she did not notice, for she
was surveying the foremost rows of the Kayintas soldiers. When
confronted by the stern gaze of their beloved Goddess, many of
them turned away in shame. But she knew that they would not
relent, for their fear of the God of Chaos had consumed their
Aloquin beckoned to her with his index finger. He turned around
and stormed out through a side corridor. The multitude parted to
make way for the feuding deities.
sneered and went after her twin.
and Acleito tried to follow but were stopped by Aloquin’s own
officers, Yugashii and Kranti, who stepped out from the shadows
and took their place at the head of the troops. Ni’Atami stood
on his tiptoes, trying to figure out what was happening from all
the way in the middle of the crowd; Kowhani gripped her sword
tighter. There was a tense moment of silence as the rival officers
locked unwavering stares. The Warrior Spirit beamed a
condescending grin at the Nastran Commander’s puzzled
at first Acleito was confused why Trellion was fighting for the
other team, when he saw the god’s eyes flash crimson as he gave
the order to attack, the Chief Commander understood who this truly
was. Hastened by his magical boots, he skipped back a few paces
from the oncoming charge, hopped onto his dragon, and ordered his
own forces to attack. The two armies collided like opposing ocean
waves, breaking through the ranks and blending deeper into each
drew his elven sight scimitar and latched on his regenerative
shield in time to see several fighters coming after him. He
needn’t have worried, for his dragon dispatched of them quickly,
clawing one aside with its mighty forelegs, biting into the next
from head to waist, throwing the mangled body at the third, and
batting the fourth away with its spiked tail. Acleito winced but
swiftly regained his composure. Waving his sword to attract
attention, he ordered the slave infantry to move ahead and meet
the oncoming warriors, whereas the better-trained soldiers were to
stay back in linear formation and open fire at the enemy.
dared touch Lynn – the memory of their previous encounter was
still fresh in the soldiers’ minds – and he used the
opportunity to shout orders left and right. He told the faeries to
stand by and heal while his cave and the karaci take the front
lines to help out their less experienced allies. That done, he
looked around for Jason.
stood surrounded by several orcs, gnolls, weres, and goblins, with
four royal guards lying dead at his feet.
can’t be good,” he muttered, holding out Caldor’s Fang.
gnolls licked their chops eagerly and the goblins flexed their
poisonous claws, as if trying to decide who would get the first
shot. An orc, the biggest of the group, finally stepped forward,
twirling a short sword. He passed his tongue over his razor-sharp
teeth and bit down into a snarling grin for effect, receiving some
grunts of approval from his buddies. The orc then raised his blade
and rushed at the King.
yelped in panic and instinctively ducked under the swing,
countering it with a slash to his opponent back. No sooner had the
crystalline dagger touched the orc that his eyes glazed over and
he toppled limply to the ground. The King breathed a sigh of
relief when he saw the corpse shriveled up, all vestiges of life
drained from its body.
orc’s cohorts gawked first at the carcass, and then back at
right,” he grinned, gaining confidence, “This thing touches
any of you, and you’ll drop dead just like your friend here!”
thugs exchanged a few alarmed glances.
who’s next?” Jason asked, brandishing Caldor’s Fang
creatures slowly backed away in fright, breaking into a mad dash
when they saw the Acora coming their way as well.
Jason waved, “Am I ever glad to see you!”
have to go after Dinictis,” the Acora panted, grabbing the King
by the wrist and tugging him along across the battlefield. Lynn
speculated that his very presence would ward off all potential
opposition, and he was proven right. They ran straight through the
commotion without incident, dodging flying arrows and jumping over
lifeless bodies, until at last reaching the corridor that Aloquin
had disappeared into.
Dinictis,” Lynn repeated.
opened his mouth to say something but the Acora pushed him inside.
go, go!” he yelled, “Now!!”
did as he was told, peeking over his shoulder as he rounded the
bend. Only after watching the King flee into the tunnel did Lynn
allow himself to turn around. Gazing out into the skirmish, he saw
that the losses on either side were approximately equal. It was
about time he joined in the fighting and shifted the odds in
Even with Sylvia gone, the ominous atmosphere Lakai sensed
about Iyutel did not go away. Up till now it had made him
extremely uncomfortable, as they neared the palace it was becoming
unbearable, and when the Forestside Castle came into full view, he
understood why. He saw the Dark Fortress superimposed over the
physical castle, the gigantic blob of tricksters drawn to his
faery aura like a shark is drawn to blood. A thousand tiny voices
whispered his name along with a million ghastly curses. Countless
bony hands reached out for him, sprouting hideous claws and
grasping tentacles. Their bodies merged into a single monstrous
face, it’s teeth-ridden mouth opening wide to welcome the
travelers into its gullet.
turned utterly pale and froze in place, hypnotized by the awesome
too, noticed the humbling display of trickster power, and put a
hand on the boy’s shoulder to snap him out of the trance.
ever all his instincts screamed to run far away, it was now.
Avenging his parents’ death was a noble quest, but throwing away
his life in the process would accomplish nothing. Surely they
wouldn’t want him charging into a trickster hive! He would find
can’t go in there,” Lakai barely managed to whimper, knowing
that if the overwhelming energy didn’t kill him, the tricksters
know, sweetie,” Lianna knelt down by him, “You go wait for us
back at the inn, ok?”
mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’ as he looked on her with
be alright,” she put a finger to his lips and smiled, “You run
faery boy retraced his steps and scurried away through the
was that about?” asked Keramis.
seems we’ve just discovered the secret of the astral castle,” Lianna
rose, frowning at the apparition of the Dark Fortress,
“It is made entirely of tricksters, and there’s not much we
can do about it.”
Raven, and Kadro stared at the physical palace, completely blind
to its etheric mirror.
that mean we get to leave?” the bounty hunter asked hopefully.
the contrary,” Lianna explained, “Now we have no choice but to
go in. We just sent the Caldorian army on a suicide mission, and
I’ll be damned if I don’t die fighting at their side.”
two elves agreed wholeheartedly.
grimaced and shook his head.
is your war, too, mercenary,” Lianna said coolly, “Are you in
ran his fingers through his hair. “Tricksters, you say?” he
glanced at Raven and patted his sword hilt, “Count me in.”
lets go,” she smirked, lifting her masquerade mask up to her
don’t need that mask, Lia,” Keramis teased, “Nobody would
recognize you in a dress!” He got a whack on the head for that
only reason I’m wearing this thing,” Lianna said through a
lethal grin, “Is because it’s fluffy enough to hide my
followed the parade of other similarly dressed people through the
central gates and onto the castle grounds. The courtyard pathways
were lined with torches and jovial music poured out from the
palace windows. The great double doors of the Forestside Castle
were open to all this night, and the group crossed the guarded
threshold without any trouble.
the ball was the epitome of glamour. Vivid draperies hung from the
balconies, wreaths of fresh flowers were laced together with
strings of beads along the walls, and fancy masks dangled from the
ceiling. Men and women clothed in the most outlandish costumes
danced in time with the melody, faint bells tinkling as they
stepped. Glitter and rainbow confetti rained down from above, and
the tables were laden with delicious food. It was a kaleidoscope
of dazzling color and light enhanced with subtle illusory magic,
rivaling in splendor the grandest of Sidhe celebrations!
Lianna, Keramis, and Kadro blended in well with the overdressed
guests. They waded through the crowd, heading for the
we still going to try and sneak in?” Keramis asked, scanning the
sneak in,” Lianna replied, popping a candy into her mouth,
“Even if we could find a portal into the astral castle, the
tricksters form a living surveillance system – they see all and
no doubt report it to their Mistress.”
enough,” Keramis said dejectedly, “Do we have another plan?”
and Kadro shrugged blankly.
I think we were lured here to be invited inside,” Lianna told
them, “So unless anybody has a better idea, I say we just
had a better idea.
going to go mingle,” Keramis informed his friends and left.
stared at his feet for a long while, and then walked off to look
for Onedia. Lianna and Trellion stayed by the tables, nibbling on
some food while they waited. Eventually even the half-elf got
bored and wandered away. Lianna leaned on the table, yawned, and
began fanning herself with her mask.
strolled absently through the dancing crowd, feathered headdresses
and trailing veils brushing against him at every turn. Somewhere
off to the side he saw Keramis flirting with the local maidens,
but he kept going, straight to the heart of the party.
a strikingly beautiful woman danced onto the scene with the grace
of a faery princess. Rosy cherry blossoms were woven into her
midnight-black hair, and her joyous laughter was as soothing as
the song of a finely tuned harp. She stood out from the rest like
a lily among thorns, and was so enchanting that Trellion
couldn’t help but lower his mask for a better look. The woman
twirled, glimpsed him up and down, winked, and danced away.
did not take his eyes off her as she left. She acted as though she
knew him, yet he had never seen her before in his life. Raven
spotted Kadro in a group of people nearby and walked up to him.
was that?” the half-elf asked.
was the Queen,” the mercenary answered, staring vacantly in the
direction Onedia had gone.
felt a tingling sensation as the hairs on the back of his neck
stood on end. He intuitively spun about to gaze up at one of the
balconies, where he saw a maiden lovelier than all the rest
standing with her eyes closed and her arms lifted in deep
concentration. His first thought was to wonder how he could have
possibly missed her in the crowd, but as he sensed the air around
him becoming more and more surreal, the elf instantly realized
what was going on: the Queen was raising the castle into a higher
dimension. Whispering “you must run away now” to the girl next
to him, he kissed her hand, bowed, and rushed through the guests
in a desperate attempt to find his friends.
it was too late. The fabric of reality blurred and the setting
bled away like wet paint, leaving a dark emptiness filled with
formless fog. Raven, Kadro, Lianna, and Keramis shouted for each
other through the haze but to no avail. The mist came together and
solidified into unyielding walls of cold stone. After a few
minutes of inspecting their surroundings, the party members came
to terms with the fact that they were separated and alone. They
each were in a corridor, no doubt leading to a maze of more
corridors. Their only guide was the distant sounds of an ongoing
battle coming from somewhere deep within the labyrinth.
merrily pranced through the Dark Fortress, forgetting all about
her ball and her guests – most of whom were now stuck wandering
aimlessly somewhere in the astral citadel. At her bidding, the
obsidian walls reassembled into a hallway, leading their Queen to
her meditating chamber. Onedia took her place at the center of the
room and closed her eyes, beginning to focus. Her feet left the
ground and her body became encircled in a shining violet aura. The
Mistress of Illusions was stirring the castle, awakening the
tricksters to do her will.
Back at the battlefield, Lynn was busy pummeling the enemy
into the ground. Not that they put up much of a fight; they ran
from him like scared rabbits – even Kranti stayed clear of him!
Those that did try to fight back wished they hadn’t. The
Acora’s hand-to-hand skills have been honed to absolute
perfection over the centuries. His moves were swift, precise, and
deadly. His hits had enough force behind them to feel hard as
steel, and a single one of his knife hand cuts could slice like a
tapped an orc’s sword arm aside with a swipe of his hand and
brought the foe down with a powerful roundhouse kick. Coming
around from the kick, he punched an oncoming elven female in the
stomach, and ducked under the jumping attack of a goblin going at
him from behind, sending the creature flying into the staggering
elf. In the same fluid motion, the Acora shifted his weight
backwards, his elbow leading to slam into the face of the
goblin’s charging friend.
morale of the Kayintas army was falling. Where were their
trickster allies? Where were their reinforcements? Where was the
Warrior Spirit to ensure their victory?
was fighting for his life, wedged between a pair of well-trained
Nastran foot soldiers. True, Kowhani had taken the third off him,
but two armored warriors were more than a handful. Luckily for
him, they each had one sword, while he had two that could cut
through non-magical armor.
to his inexperience in fighting armored opponents, Ni’Atami
tried to trip one of the soldiers and hurt his bare foot against
the metal in the process. The half-goblin hopped away on one leg,
trying to rub the aching limb while holding his scimitar, but only
managed to trip over his own sword and fall flat on the ground in
time to avoid a slash aimed for his head.
sneered at her partner’s clumsy footwork, but in truth she was
faring no better.
was back up in seconds, ready to meet the soldiers’ combined
slashes with his curved blades. He twisted the enemy weapons into
the floor, and promptly jumped onto the swords with each foot,
ripping them from their hands. His own blades now free, he brought
them down in a crisscross slash on one of the soldiers – a move
he had learned from Keramis. The man fell apart before his eyes.
half-goblin’s triumph was short-lived, however, for the hard,
mailed fist of the second soldier smashed into him, knocking him
roughly to the ground. Ni’Atami rolled over to see the
descending arc of a sword plunging towards his chest.
then a violent tremor shook the entire astral castle. The Nastran
soldier was jerked aside, scoring only a glancing blow on the
half-goblin’s torso. Kowhani, finished with her own adversary,
rushed in to cleave her two-handed sword into the stumbling
warrior’s throat. Ni’Atami sat up and laughed playfully at his
partner, who beamed him one of her arrogant smiles in return.
tunnels opened up and the Forestside Kingdom’s reinforcements
flooded onto the field. The walls came alive and the ground
rippled like restless waves. For a moment all the fighting stopped
and everyone grew quiet, but the castle was deathly still; nothing
battle picked up again, and only the faeries could sense that
something was very, very wrong. They began to panic, frantically
informing the Acora that they were surrounded by legions upon
legions of tricksters, and that their illusion dispersing spells
would be futile against such a large force.
West Forest and karaci archers resumed firing at the enemy, but
this time walls of rock raised up to intercept their arrows.
Stalagmites and stalactites of solid stone shot out from the
ground and ceiling, impaling individual members of the Caldorian
that stood staring in awe at the spectacle unfolding before them
didn’t even notice that the floor beneath their feet had turned
to quicksand, and they were being sucked into the ground. So
strong was the pull that once even the soles of their shoes were
caught, the rest of the body would inevitably follow. To avoid
this fate, everyone had to keep moving at all times.
non-magical armor began to heat up, melting into its wearer and
dissolving skin and bone. Acleito and Lynn began shouting for all
people with any non-magical items on their person to drop them
single move had significantly weakened much of the better fighters
the Caldorian militia had at its disposal. The Kayintas army
cheered, preparing to fulfill their part of the battle plan by
utilizing tactics that would best aid their trickster allies
annihilate the invaders. They didn’t even need the dragon Kranti
here – he would only get in the way.
Though he could hear hushed murmurs all around, Raven
walked wholly unmolested by tricksters. The building blocks of the
castle knew who he was, and knew what would happen to them if he
came to any harm. One brick whispered to the next, resulting in a
long chain of communication that informed their neighbors of this
half-elf’s identity. Trellion could see the corridor branch out
ahead, but the offshoots kept rearranging into a single pathway as
he approached. It was obvious to him that he was being led, the
only question was where.
was quite surprised when the corridor came to an abrupt dead end
and the murmuring stopped. He stared and he waited, getting rather
impatient – Aurora was somewhere in this castle and he needed to
find her! The half-elf felt the wall for levers and switches, but
found none. Instead, the stone began to tingle under his
fingertips and evaporated in a shower of shimmering light.
The God of War charged into the fray with unbridled fury,
his crimson battle aura flaming bright, instilling terror in all
who gazed upon it. His serrated blades sheared through the
Caldorian armies more efficiently than Lynn, leaving a trail of
death and carnage in their wake. The ground ran red with blood.
battlefield quaked with cataclysmic wrath. Earthquakes rocked the
floor, tearing zigzagging gashes beneath the troops’ feet and
jolting up hills of broken stone. Jagged boulders rained down
sporadically from above, crushing their intended targets and
exploding into fireballs if they hadn’t. Blinding lights flashed
before some soldiers’ eyes, deafening noises rang in the ears of
others, and even more fell screaming to the floor overwhelmed by
horrific illusions that bombarded their mind. The battle was going
so well that Kranti and Kentabri figured they were not needed on
the field anymore and ran into the tunnels to look for the
stared helplessly into the bloodbath. He watched as the Warrior
Spirit literally shredded through his Nastran defenses, leaving a
pile of broken bodies where his best fighters had been moments
ago. Yugashii’s burning red eyes glinted with zeal when he saw
the Chief Commander nearby. Acleito was utterly speechless from
dread, and even his dragon took a step back from the god when he
rushed at them like lightning.
dragon reared onto its hind legs, preparing to meet the charge
with a lashing snake strike, but was too slow. Yugashii’s
weapons cut the beast cleanly down the middle, flinging Acleito
tumbling to the ground. He recovered quickly, and got up to
confront the advancing god. But though his boots could carry him
halfway across the field in seconds, he stood paralyzed with fear.
out, Commander!” came a cry from the side as a slave rammed into
him and shoved him out of the way.
blades sliced through the commoner’s back instead, spraying
fresh blood all over the Chief Commander’s face and armor.
Acleito’s breathing stopped as he gazed into the Warrior
Spirit’s hypnotic eyes.
weakling,” Yugashii hissed at him, the war god’s voice and
visage fading out as he disappeared, pulled back to his quarters
by Raven triggering the doorway.
let out a puff of air, and with a trembling hand reached up to
wipe the splatter of blood off his face. Never had he seen so much
blood and so many mangled bodies so close before. He shuddered at
the sight of the misshapen form of the slave who had saved his
corpse began to sink into the ground and the Chief Commander
jumped up, reminded that it was still unsafe to keep still. He had
stared into the face of death and lived, with a man lying dead in
his place. All things considered, Acleito decided his own life was
now forfeit. Strapping his shield onto his back, he drew his faery
sight scimitar in readiness for melee combat, but nothing could
prepare him for what he saw next.
knew there were tricksters about, he even speculated that they
were the ones throwing boulders and making his soldiers see
illusions. But until this point, he had not yet grasped the sheer
magnitude of just how many of them there were. They were not
throwing boulders, they were the boulders! They were the
ones who latched their prickly little claws into the soldiers’
shoes and pulled them below to be devoured in their terrible
depths, they were the rising walls of stone, and the earthquakes,
and the spires – they were the very ground he stood on; they
implications sent chills down his spine. The castle could
obliterate the entire army with but a thought, and yet it was
picking people off one by one. What was it waiting for? He knew
tricksters to be mischievous creatures, preferring to play with
their prey before killing it, but did that mentality apply to war?
More likely they were stalling.
looked down and saw their grotesque, grinning faces, and their
grasping hands pawing at his feet. He slashed at them with his
magical blades and actually managed to wound a few as the rest
shrank back in panic. The Chief Commander now understood why
Dinictis insisted everybody use faery metal weapons. He gritted
his teeth, sheathed his elven sight scimitar and took out the Horn
of Telepathy. Acleito then broke out in a mad dash across the
battlefield, aided by his haste boots.
all tricksters!!” he yelled at the top of his lungs,
“Disbelieve!! We’re stronger than them! Our weapons can harm
them! Fight! Slash at the walls!!”
goblin aimed his slingshot at the Commander and fired. He would
have missed horribly, but that did not matter, for a column of
tricksters rose up from the floor and bumped Acleito straight into
the missile’s path. It impacted with his head and he crumpled
limply to the ground, knocked out cold by the blow.
bounded over to the Commander and dragged him off the spot before
the tricksters had a chance to suck him into the floor. The Acora
laid him down and noticed that the strike had cracked his skull.
he dead?” Elvina fluttered over curiously.
not that easy to kill,” the dark elf smirked, trying to stem the
blood flow with the sleeves of his tunic.
faery cast a feeble healing spell on Acleito. “Fighting the
tricksters is taking its toll on us,” she explained to the Acora,
“Our magic is nearly spent, the castle is draining it away.”
nodded grimly and moved the body again. “I transfer my command
of the East Forest forces to you,” he told her, “Go.”
saluted him and zipped away.
dark elf slid off Acleito’s boots, pried the faery sight
scimitar from his hands, and picked up the horn. He’d need those
if he were to be of any use to the army now.
group of soldiers stared anxiously at their fallen leader.
heard him!” Lynn shouted at them, hoisting Acleito’s arm over
his shoulder, “Attack the tricksters!”