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What Lies Beneath

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#1 Sareth

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Posted 02 October 2014 - 12:26 PM

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I started writing this story over two and a half years ago, but due to the fact that I'm so rarely in the mood to write, progress has been very slow. But, since I'm fairly near to the end now, I figured I'd follow the example of others and post the story in parts to get some initial feedback and give myself some motivation so I can finally finish the thing.

 

So, without further ado, I present Part 1. I hope you enjoy, and comments would be very appreciated.

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What Lies Beneath: Part 1 

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She loved Illikon. Lynaia was reminded of this fact yet again as she took in the rows of buildings that lined both sides of the stone paved street that led to the Central District and Castle Illikon in the distance. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. Even from her location at the city's main gate she could taste the sea-salt tinge in the air. It reminded her of home, it always did. Then again, Illikon was pretty much the closest thing to a fixed home she'd had in years. For though she'd traveled much of both the length and breadth of the Empire, and some distance beyond both north and south, sooner or later she always wound up back here.

 

Snapping herself from her reverie, she checked the sun's position, shading her sensitive eyes from the glare. It was nearly sunset, and she would prefer to get to the temple before dark. Wending her way through the crowds, her staff clicking on the stones, she made her way down the main street before turning right towards the city's Monument District.

 

***

 

The temple of Selene was not the biggest temple in Illikon, not by a long shot. Compared to the temples of Poseidon or Zeus, it was small, out of the way, and not particularly grand. To Lynaia, it was one of the most beautiful buildings in the Empire. She rapidly ascended the short flight of white marble steps that led to the temple's columned entrance, reaching it just as the final sliver of the sun's disc was crossing the west horizon.

 

A young acolyte met her just inside the entrance. She had never seen him before, he had likely joined the temple since she was last here.

 

"Welcome to the temple of Selene Miss....."

 

The boy stopped mid-sentence as she came in out of the glare and he got his first real look at her. It was almost cute, the way he tried to hide his confusion as he took in her appearance and dress: Her feet were clad in black leather boots, tipped with steel. She wore pants and a short-sleeved shirt both of midnight blue cloth. Over the shirt was a sturdy vest of dark brown leather. A midnight cloak was draped over her shoulders, pinned at her throat with a silver brooch in the shape of a crescent moon. A wide belt, woven from strands of copper, and whose buckle was set with a small white pearl, adorned her waist. Her right hand gripped a staff, shoulder height and made of a highly polished black wood. Its surface was scrawled with holy symbols from top to bottom and the ends were capped with silver. Greaves of bright steel protected her shins and knees, and a pair of plate mail gauntlets hung from her belt.

 

However unusual her dress was, the boy could have handled it. But then Lynaia drew back her hood, revealing her distinct features, unusual even for an elf. While she had the somewhat ethereal beauty typical of elves there was something more, underlying it like layer of steel. Physique was a big part of it: She was incredibly fit and toned and, unlike the slimmer build most elves tended towards, was strongly muscled, although her body still possessed a distinctly feminine shape. Her dark brown hair was all drawn back into a single large braid which normally fell to mid-back, but currently was looped over her right shoulder. Her skin was pale, not unusual for a vidralfar, though at five-feet eleven-inches she was unusually tall for a member of that race. However upon close inspection, and in the proper light, her skin possessed a slight but distinct blue-gray tinge which betrayed her mixed heritage to any knowledgeable in such things. Which, luckily for her, few humans were.

 

But it was her eyes that spooked the boy most of all. She almost laughed, people always stared at her eyes. And with good reason, for they were a mismatched set. While her right eye was a dark slate-gray color, her left —though also technically gray— was extremely pale, almost silver in color.

 

After a few silent moments had passed, she decided that this had gone on long enough. "I am Lynaia Argentis, Priestess of Selene, and I would like to enter the temple before the night gets any older."

 

She had spoken in the most imperious tone she could manage and enjoyed the slight jump the boy gave when she mentioned her title. The young acolyte looked almost panicked, unsure of what to do about such a strange visitor, when a voice spoke up from the entrance.

 

"Now now, Lynaia, it's not nice to scare the new acolytes."

 

"Kn-Knight-Captain....," the acolyte stuttered, looking past her, his eyes bulging even wider if that were possible. To Lynaia the acolyte's statement was unneeded, she had recognized the voice immediately.

 

"Veran!" she said, turning, her voice filled with joy and surprise.

 

Veran Luxus, Knight-Captain of the order of the Knights Templar stood in the open doorway. He was a tall man in his early 30's, and his face bore his typical easy-going grin. The last rays of the setting sun glinted off the steel and deepgold of his armor. His short chestnut-colored hair and neatly trimmed beard glowed like fire.

 

"It's good to see you again," he said before turning to the acolyte. "Don't worry about her," he said, gesturing at Lynaia. "She's a regular visitor at this temple. I am here to see the High Priest, he's expecting me," he continued, his expression turning serious.

 

"Y-yes, of c-course, I'l go tell him!" The acolyte managed to stutter before taking off at a run.

 

Veran was grinning again when he turned back to face her. "I think you traumatized that boy for life."

 

"Come on Veran, I wasn't scaring him, I was educating him," she replied lightly with a grin of her own, eliciting an incredulous raised eyebrow from him.

 

"Educating?" he replied, his tone serious, though his expression was anything but.

"Yes, now he'll certainly recognize me the next time I visit."

 

"Ha! I expect he will at that," Veran laughed. "Did you see how he ran?"

 

"I think that had more to do with a Knight-Captain walking in and just casually asking to see the High Priest," she shot back, finding Veran's laughter infectious.

 

"Aye, that's probably true," he responded, before breaking down laughing again.

 

After a moment, they calmed themselves, Veran turning more serious again.

 

"It's been a while, hasn't it?"

 

"Three years," she responded. "A long three years."

 

"This city isn't quite like it was when you last left, things have-"

 

"Knight-Captain!"

 

Lynaia and Veran both turned as the acolyte came back at a run, skidding to a stop in front of them.

 

"The High Priest will see you now, he's in the g-garden," the acolyte spoke, gesturing for Veran to follow him.

 

Veran sighed at the interruption. "I'll tell you later. Will you be here long?"

 

"A couple of hours," she responded.

 

"This meeting shouldn't take that long, I'll wait for you."

 

Lynaia was consumed by curiosity over Veran's statement as she watched the acolyte escort him away, but pushed it aside for the moment, and headed into the temple's central room.

 

The central chamber of the temple was a large room, perfectly circular in shape, and kept intentionally dim, with small candles along the wall providing the only artificial illumination. At its center was a pool of holy water surrounding a pedestal upon which was a statue of the goddess Selene, beautifully shaped from the purest white marble, Her lunate crown plated with burnished silver. The room's ceiling was a shallow dome in which was set twelve circular holes, able to be closed in inclement weather, that opened on the night sky. These holes were precisely aligned such that the full moon of each month would shine through one of them, illuminating the statue beneath.

 

Even though the full moon was still two nights off, much of its silvery light made its way into the room, allowing Lynaia to easily make her way amongst the other worshippers to kneel not far from the central pool. Bowing her head, she closed her eyes and took several slow deep breaths, letting all of her worries fall away for the moment. For the night was yet young, and there were prayers to be said.

 

***

 

The moon was high in the almost-cloudless sky when Lynaia exited the temple, lighthearted. Her heart wasn't the only thing lightened, her coin purse was as well, for she was always as generous as she could be when visiting her goddess' temples. After taking a moment to admire the beautiful night sky, she pulled her cloak around her shoulders to ward of the cool night air, and turned to where Veran stood leaning against one of the columns, his armor glinting with reflected light.

 

"Have you been waiting long?" she inquired.

 

"Not too long," he said, with a hint of a grin. "I assume you have a place to stay?"

 

"I'm staying at the Silver Stein," she replied.

 

"Ah, an excellent choice. Come on, I'll walk you there and we can talk on the way."

 

***

 

At this time of night the city's streets were almost empty, save for the occasional guard. Too empty, Lynaia realized after a few moments' reflection. While of course there was normally far less activity after dark, she couldn't recall ever having seen the streets this empty. There had always been at lest a few civilians going about, even if it was only a couple of drunks making their way home. But on this night, aside from her and Veran and the normal guards, there didn't seem to be a single soul out and about.

 

Growing a bit wary, as they walked Lynaia turned and examined her companion —who had been silent for the several minutes since they left the temple. While Veran appeared outwardly calm, she noticed he seemed unusually alert, his eyes continually flicking back and forth as though searching for something. His left hand never left its perch on the pommel of his sword, and his right hand had the torch he was carrying in a death grip. Another might not have noticed it, but she knew him well enough to know that something was bothering him.

 

"Veran, what's wrong?" she asked. "You're acting kind of nervous.," she said, indicating his grips on both sword and torch.

 

He turned to look at her quickly, as though startled for a moment, before sheepishly laughing. "Yeah, I guess I am, but with good reason."

 

"What's going on?"

 

Veran sighed, his face turning serious again. In the torchlight she could make out frown lines on his forehead. He hadn't had those three years ago.

 

"Very well," he started. "Things have been.... weird, these past few months. People have been vanishing off the streets at night. And not just in the Slums, we see some of that all the time there, the bodies are usually found in an alley or such not long after. But this has been happening in all parts of the city, and so far we haven't found so much as a single body."

 

Lynaia was shocked that something like this was happing in Illikon, one of the greatest cities in the Empire. "How many people have vanished?" she asked.

 

"Maybe two or three dozen. We aren't quite sure because we can't keep track of people in the Slums very well, but a total of 23 are known to have disappeared from other districts of the city so far."

 

"Is that the reason for....." she said, indicating the street, deserted except for the two of them.

 

"Yeah. We tried to keep it quiet, so as to avoid a panic, but the word's gotten around, most people don't go out anymore once it gets dark. The guard patrols have been increased across the city, and the Knights Templar have been helping out, but so far it hasn't done anything, people keep vanishing and no one has seen a thing."

 

"Gods be good," she whispered, before a thought struck her. "Wait, does this have anything to do with why you were seeing the High Priest today?"

 

He sighed again. "Yes, four of the vanished were acolytes at some of the temples, including one from the temple of Selene. They were sent out on errands late at night and never came back. The temples have contracted the Templar to find the culprits, but we haven't had any more luck than the city guard..... We're here."

 

Lynaia had been so wrapped up in the conversation that it took her a moment to realize that they had arrived at their destination, the Silver Stein inn. A hanging lantern illuminated the door and sign. She and Veran stopped before the closed door.

 

"How long are you staying in the city?" he asked.

 

"Three days," she replied. "Until after the full moon."

 

"Normally I would ask you to stay longer, but with things the way they are, well, maybe it's better that you only ever stay briefly."

 

"What can I say, Veran? I'm a wanderer at heart," she said, catching the undertone of regret in his voice. "And don't worry about me, I can handle myself, I'll be fine. Besides, I'm sure you'll catch whoever is responsible before long, I've never known you to fail."

 

"I wish I could have your confidence," he said quietly. "Anyway, goodnight Lynaia, hopefully I'll see you tomorrow."

 

"Goodnight Veran, and may Selene watch over you in the darkness."

 

Lynaia watched as he walked away until he was lost to sight around a bend in the street. Even after he was gone, she just stood there, trying to get her mind around what she had been told, to make some sense of it. After a minute or so she decided she would think better after some sleep and turned to knock on the inn door. Her knuckles were just about to impact the wood when she stopped short, her incredibly sharp hearing having caught something, the sound of someone running, seemingly coming from the unlit alley maybe half a dozen yards down the street.

 

She knew she should leave it be, or at least call for Veran, but she was consumed by curiosity, and quite confident in her ability to defend herself. Putting on her armored gauntlets, she gripped her staff tightly and entered the shadowy alley. The darkness in the alley was near-absolute. Looking up, she saw that a cloud, seemingly the only one in the sky, had drifted in front of the moon, reducing it to a barely visible pale disk. Even with her extremely night-sensitive eyes, she could only see maybe twenty feet. She took a few more steps into the alley. The running footsteps were coming closer, and she could hear what sounded like ragged breathing, but she couldn't see a thing yet.

 

"Who's there!?" she called, her heart starting to race a bit, thinking that this hadn't really been the best idea. A moment later, a pale figure came rushing out of the shadows, barreling blindly into her. Lynaia caught the man, for she saw it was a man, and held him at arms length. He was shirtless and covered in blood, some sort of symbol seemed to have been carved into the flesh of his chest. The man fought and clawed with the berserker-like fury of desperation, making it tough for her to hold him back, despite her strength.

 

"Veran!" she cried, as loud as she could, hoping that the templar was still near enough to hear. "I'm not going to hurt you!" she declared, shaking the man to get his attention. At the sound of her voice, the man stopped his attack, looking shocked and relieved.

 

"Thank the Gods! You're not one of them." The man spoke rapidly, and was clearly scared out of his mind. "Please let me go," he said, trying to push past her. "We have to get out of here they're coming-" he jerked, and slumped forwards. She instinctively moved back out of the way as he fell towards her to land face down on the alley floor. Even in the dim light she could make out a knife protruding from the dead man's back. Horrified, she stumbled back a step, and looked up to discover that she wasn't alone.

 

Four figures stood in the alley, right at the point where visibility faded into the darkness. They wore gloves and were hooded and cloaked, the shadows where their faces should have been visible were impenetrable, she couldn't have even guessed at a gender. Each held a knife. Without a word, they charged.

 

As they came, she quickly unfastened her cloak and threw it behind her, in a fight it would only get in the way. Grasping her staff with both hands, she faced the figures down. Luckily, the alley was narrow enough that they could only come at her one or two at a time. The attack was silent, completely silent, Lynaia realized with a start. She couldn't hear anything anymore, not even her own breathing, and the figures made not a sound as they ran towards her.

The first came at her head-on, leaping over the man's body and slashing at her with its knife. She parried the strike with one end of her staff, before levering the other end around to smash the silver-capped end into the figure's hooded face, knocking it into the alley wall where it slumped unmoving.

 

The second went around the body,  aiming for her right side. She faded before the thrust, leaping back to avoid the blade. Grasping her staff with both hands at one end, as though it were a sword, she lashed out at the figure's weapon hand, striking it just above the wrist and sending the blade flying. Reversing direction, she then brought the staff up in a powerful upwards strike that struck the figure roughly where its chin should have been, knocking it backwards to the ground.

 

The third and fourth figures were smarter, coming at her simultaneously, one from each side. She blocked one figure's strike with the staff, moving to dodge the other. Not quite fast enough, as as the other moved far faster than expected and she felt a hot flash of pain in her left arm as the blade cut a shallow line across her bicep. Reacting instantly, she leapt back just as the third figure swung again, the blade missing her by mere inches. She was forced to retreat before the figures, as whenever she attacked or blocked one of them the other would move in to strike with inhuman speed, and she narrowly avoided several more cuts. She had only one thing left that she could try to end this quickly. She swept out in a wide strike with her staff, forcing the figures to leap back out of the way. With a momentary breathing space thus created, she raised her hand, calling upon her goddess.

 

A bright flash of silvery-white light filled the alley, though whether it came from from the moon breaking through the clouds for an instant or some other source could not be said. The two figures stumbled back, momentarily blinded, while Lynaia's eyes were unaffected. Being the devoted servant of a god had benefits few of the uninitiated really knew about. Taking advantage of the opening, she rushed forwards and smashed the center of her staff into the shrouded face of the third figure, knocking it back and stunning it momentarily. Before the fourth figure could recover its sight and bring its knife back up, she turned and struck it at the base of the neck, felling it instantly. Pivoting back, she evaded a blind swipe by the third figure and then brought her staff down in a furious two-handed blow on its head, feeling bone give way before the strike. It dropped like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

 

The fight had lasted less than a minute, but it felt much longer to her. Lynaia could feel her hands shaking slightly. Though no stranger to defending herself, everything about the incident disturbed her on an instinctual level, her body didn't seem quite convinced that the fight was over. With all of the figures down, she suddenly realized that she could hear again, her ragged breathing sounding like thunder to her ears after the silence. And someone was calling her name.

 

"Lynaia! Where are you!?"

 

"Veran!" she called, running from the alley to see him racing towards her, with two members of the city guard right behind him.

 

"Lynaia, I heard you cry out, what happened?"

 

She couldn't seem to quite put the words together. "I was attacked... men in the alley.... they killed someone!"

 

"Come on!" he yelled at the guards before rushing into the alley, with her right behind. The guards' torches pierced the darkness, lighting up the alley. Except for her cloak and some blood, it was empty. The body and the four figures were gone.

 

"The dead man was there," she said, pointing at the small patch of blood where the body had been. "He came running down the alley, panicked. He said someone was after him, then he got hit in the back with a knife. And there were four others, they attacked me, but I fought them off," she continued, indicating the cut on her arm with a shaking hand.

 

"Then where are they?" Veran inquired, looking utterly mystified.

 

"I don't know, it was only moments ago..." she replied, just as confused, and more than a little frightened. "I know how to fight, and the ways I hit them, they should have all been unconscious or dead. Certainly not able to just get up and run off in a matter of seconds while carrying someone else."

 

"Then how...?" Veran asked.

 

"I have no idea. They were fast, but.... Wait! There's something else. When they attacked, I couldn't hear a thing, it's like I was completely deaf, but once I knocked them all out my hearing came back. I think it was some form of magic.... I've seen some of my own kind do such things."

 

"Magic?" he replied, uttering the word with disgust. "If that's the case it could explain much about the recent vanishings, but it means the situation is much worse than we thought."

 

"I would say you were right on both accounts," a smooth voice spoke up from behind them at the alley entrance. Lynaia, Veran, and the guards turned to face two hooded men, one of whom had a distinctive facial tattoo, consisting of a black line across the eyes with three points dropping down from it, and the other of whom wore a mask of black metal. They were accompanied by several black-armored figures.

 

"Who are you?" Veran growled at them. "And what's your business here?"

 

"I am Inquisitor Jaryl Velken," the masked hooded figure responded. "And my business is the same as yours, if I'm not mistaken. Now if you would all please come with me, we have much to discuss."

 

"Not until you tell us what's going on!" Veran shot back, eying the Inquisitors with suspicion. Lynaia had heard some rumors about the Inquisition, few of them good, and shared Veran's reticence.

 

"These streets are not safe, as one of you already seems to have discovered" Jaryl replied, gesturing at Lynaia. "And I'm afraid I must insist."

 

***

 

Part 2


Edited by Sareth, 18 October 2014 - 11:45 AM.

"This means I will not have to regret sending back their envoy short a few limbs."

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#2 Dagoth

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Posted 02 October 2014 - 03:19 PM

Pretty good read, Sareth. If I had to choose one of the olympians, it would probably be selene because she's not a drunk, perverted, man-child in the sky like Zeus and some of the others.

Tell me, did you write the bulk of this recently or have you been updating an older version for quite some time?


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#3 Sareth

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Posted 02 October 2014 - 04:14 PM

Pretty good read, Sareth. If I had to choose one of the olympians, it would probably be selene because she's not a drunk, perverted, man-child in the sky like Zeus and some of the others.

Tell me, did you write the bulk of this recently or have you been updating an older version for quite some time?

 

Thanks. And, yeah, most of the Olympians are jerks.  :P

 

 

As I said at the top, I've been writing this on-and-off (mostly off) for the last 2.5 years, so I probably finished the section I posted a year or so ago. Though I did go back recently and update a few minor things (basically just making some sentences sound better).


"This means I will not have to regret sending back their envoy short a few limbs."

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#4 Lord_Capulet

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Posted 02 October 2014 - 08:38 PM

Very well written!  I greatly enjoyed reading this, and look forward to finding out what is truly going on.  Your dialogue is fun and flows well, but I would expect nothing less from one of my favorite fellow Wulfgard Heroes/Legends veterans.  ;)

 

I look forward to following this story, attentively and loyally! 


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#5 Maverick-Werewolf

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Posted 04 October 2014 - 07:26 AM

Awesome work so far, Sareth! I always did like Lynaia, so it's great to read more about her. I'm really enjoying the story, and I can't wait to see where all this goes. The action and dialogue alike flows very well, and I love the way you described Selene's temple.

 

Learning that the Inquisition is going to get involved in the story as well only makes things that much more interesting (and I'm sure Cappy is happy about that, being a total Inquisitor fanboy :P ). Looking forward to more.


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#6 Sareth

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Posted 18 October 2014 - 11:42 AM

Thanks for your patience, guys. As a reward, here's part 2.  :D

 

The third-and-final part will probably be longer in coming than this was, but I've already made some progress towards finishing it, and I'm gonna kick my own butt into gear and make myself finish writing the thing ASAP.

 

Until then: Enjoy. And, as always, comments would be greatly appreciated.

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What Lies Beneath: Part 2

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"This symbol you saw, could you draw it for me?"

 

From where she sat, Lynaia looked up at Jaryl, who stood leaning on the other end of the small wood table. Without his mask he was revealed to be a dark-haired man in his forties, with a thin face and a somewhat beak-like nose which made him look like a hawk scrutinizing its prey, an appearance that seemed rather at odds with the calm smoothness of his voice. Veran stood in the corner behind her, watching the proceedings, and another tattooed inquisitor, this one a red-haired female, sat silently in the opposite corner of the room, behind Jaryl. Lynaia also knew that there were at least two guards outside the door.

 

They were in a small well-lit room in an inn, not far from Castle Illikon, which the inquisitors seemed to have taken over as a temporary headquarters, she and Veran having reluctantly allowed themselves to be escorted there. The other tattooed inquisitor and two of the black-armored men —Ebonguards, Veran had told her they were called— had been left at the alley to more thoroughly examine the scene. The two city guards had been released as soon as the inquisitors found out that they hadn't witnessed the incident, though only after swearing not to discuss the Inquisition's presence in the city with anyone. Veran had been allowed to go as well, but had refused to leave her alone with them. Lynaia had described the attack to the inquisitors in full, leaving out only her use of divine magic, not knowing how they would react. They had remained silent throughout until now.

 

"Well, could you?" Jaryl asked again.

 

"It was dark and I only got a quick glimpse, but I might be able to" she replied.

 

"Please try," the inquisitor responded, sliding a piece of parchment and a charcoal stick across the table to her.

 

Lynaia began sketching. She wasn't an artist by any means, but she could write very neatly, and the two skills were not dissimilar. She took her time, adding as much detail as she could remember. She was aware of Veran moving up behind her to look over her shoulder while she worked. Jaryl merely waited silently, if he was impatient he hid it very well. After a couple of minutes she passed the completed sketch to the inquisitor, who examined it carefully, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

 

"No, it couldn't be...." Jaryl said, more to himself than to anyone else, his eyes displaying a hint of recognition. Reaching over, he snatched the charcoal stick from her fingers and set to modifying her drawing, his hand moving with a furious energy. "Is this what you saw!?" he asked, holding up the changed drawing for her to look at.

 

"It... could be," Lynaia replied, examining the new sketch. It was more complex than what she had drawn, and it featured several peripheral elements that she didn't recall, but the core of the symbol definitely looked familiar. "Like I said, I didn't get a good look at it, but.... yes, it definitely does resemble what I saw."

 

Jaryl closed his eyes for a moment and sighed, letting his head drop. "Well, it seems that you were right, Knight-Captain." When he raised his head again, the inquisitor's face bore a warmthless smile. "The situation is worse than even I feared."

 

"But what is it?" Veran asked, gesturing at the symbol.

 

"The most foul and unholy sorcery," Jaryl replied. "It is part of a spell used by demon worshipers to extract the soul of a freshly dead individual and trap it in a stone so that they may use it to power their infernal magics. It is exactly this kind of atrocity that the Inquisition exists to prevent."

 

"By the gods...." Lynaia whispered. She had heard tales of such abominations, but for it to happen here, in Illikon? It seemed more like the stuff of nightmares than of waking reality.

 

"But if you didn't know this before, then why were you in the city?" Veran inquired.

 

"The Inquisition has captured several warlocks over the past few months. They had been operating much more boldly than their kind normally do. With some.... encouragement, we managed to get some of them to talk. They didn't know much, or if they did we were unable to pry it from them, but what they did tell us seemed to indicate a sizable group of warlocks operating somewhere within the Empire. When word reached the Inquisition of the disappearances here, the connection seemed obvious, and my colleagues and I were dispatched to investigate. But until tonight we were unable to discover how or for what purpose people were being taken."

 

"And now you know" Veran stated.

 

"Yes, now we know" Jaryl replied, his expression grim. "Dozens of people have vanished, and if all of them met with the fate that was clearly intended for the man Lynaia ran into, then these warlocks have amassed a great deal of magical power somewhere within this city. Who knows how much destruction they might be able to unleash."

 

"How do we stop them?" Lynaia asked, breaking into the conversation.

 

"We roust them out from wherever they are hiding and either capture or kill them," Jaryl responded. "And time is of the essence. Unfortunately we do not yet know where their hiding place is, and until we find it there is little that we can do. I am hoping that the men I left to investigate the alley might be able to provide us a lead when they return."

 

As though summoned by the thought, at that moment there was a knock on the door, which opened to admit the other tattooed inquisitor. Without his face shadowed by the hood, he was noticeably younger than both Jaryl and the female inquisitor.

 

"Report" Jaryl commanded.

 

"Yes, sir" the inquisitor responded. "We examined the alley from where the fight took place all the way to where it comes out at the next street over. At the far end we met three members of the city guard. They had been patrolling the street all night, and swore that no one had come that way before us."

 

"And you believe them?" Jaryl inquired.

 

"Yes, they did not appear to be under any form or influence or duress, and it would have been nigh impossible for them to miss a group of four carrying a body. As a result, we backtracked through the alley to examine it again. While we were searching, I happened to tread upon the drainage grate and noticed that it was loose. Upon closer inspection, it looked like someone had carefully removed the mortar holding it in place from underneath, so that it could be easily removed but the fact wouldn't be visibly obvious from above. I believe that is where they are hiding, sir: In the sewers, right beneath our feet."

 

"Of course," Jaryl spoke. "It's the one place no one would really go looking. And the system is extensive, they could get anywhere in the city without ever being seen. Well, now we know where to look." Jaryl was smiling now, a grim but excited smile. "And now it is time for the to hunt begin in earnest. We will descend into the sewers, find this coven of warlocks and end their evil plans, tonight."

 

"Then the Knights Templar will accompany you" Veran declared.

 

"No" Jaryl replied. "There is no time to spare, and this is our mission, not yours."

 

"This is our responsibility too!" Veran retorted angrily. "It is our purpose to root out and destroy evil wherever it may hide, and we swore to this city that we would end this threat so that is what we will do. Besides, you said it yourself, the sewer system is massive, you need more manpower. The Templar barracks is not far, I could have my men back here in half an hour."

 

"Very well" Jaryl said, reluctantly, after a moment's contemplation. "But bring only those men you know personally and trust implicitly. No slight intended against the integrity of your order, but it is not unlikely that these warlocks have informants in important organizations in this city, and we cannot risk them being forewarned about our impending assault."

 

Lynaia could see Veran bristle at the implication that it was possible for a member of the Templar to be a traitor, but after a moment he calmed down.

 

"I have about twenty men I trust absolutely, you shall have your secrecy" he said. "I will get them and be back shortly."

 

As Veran turned to leave the room, Lynaia stood. "Wait," she said. "I'm coming too."

 

"Absolutely not!" Jaryl replied. "This is no place for a civilian."

 

"Civilian? I fought four of them and won with hardly a scratch on me, I can handle myself. And down there in the darkness I can see better than any of you."

 

"It's true" Veran spoke, reluctantly, in response to a questioning glance from Jaryl. "I've known her for years, and she never gets into trouble that she can't get out of."

 

"Please," she continued. "I can help and..... I got dragged into this nightmare, now I have to see it through. I have to know that it's over."

 

"You understand that I cannot guarantee your safety," Jaryl said after a long moment.

 

Lynaia felt as though she stood at the edge of a great precipice, impenetrable darkness below, the other side hidden in the uncertain future. Yet she didn't hesitate. "I understand."

 

"Very well then," Jaryl spoke with a sigh, before turning back to Veran. "Knight-Captain, fetch your men, and let us prepare."

 

***

 

The sewer tunnels under Illikon were dank, smelly, and dark. So, basically about how one would expect a sewer to be, Lynaia thought. The smell of the place was terrible, clogging her nostrils and rendering her sense of smell useless, and the ground squished disconcertingly underfoot with nearly every step. The effect of which being that Lynaia was actually grateful that the heavily shuttered lanterns carried by the templar were dim enough that they did not reveal anything other than the floor's basic outline. She really didn't want to know what she was walking through.

 

Aside from the templars' lanterns, the darkness was near-absolute. The only natural light came from shafts of moonlight shining through the occasional drainage grates in the streets overhead, which were their only connection to the world above. She didn't like it down here, didn't like being so cut off from the open sky, from her goddess. Still, she continued on, trying to ignore the oppressiveness of her surroundings, as difficult as that was, and instead focus on the importance of their mission.

 

The group numbered sixteen in total: her, Veran, the male tattooed Inquisitor —who had grudgingly introduced himself as Kyle—, three Ebonguards, and ten Knights Templar. Inquisitor Jaryl had taken a group of similar size and composition and entered the sewer via an entrance halfway across the city from the one in the alley where Lynaia was attacked, that being the entrance the group she was with had used. As she understood it, between them the two groups would methodically search the sewer tunnels, and eventually meet up under the middle of the city to regroup and re-plan if they didn't find anything.

 

Lynaia walked at the front of the group, hoping that her superior senses of sight and hearing might give them an early warning of danger. Veran walked beside her and she noticed that, in addition to his normal sword and shield, he now also bore a war hammer thrust through a loop in his belt. To her eyes, the weapon looked to be of dwarvish make, its square head counterbalanced by a wickedly curved spike. For a moment she considered asking him about it, but then she shook off the distraction. She had to stay focused, they were in enemy territory now.

 

An hour passed uneventfully, their search discovering nothing but more empty, stinking, tunnels. There was no talking, the only sound aside from their footsteps or the occasional clink of metal was that of one of the templar marking the tunnel walls at intervals with a piece of chalk, so as to document where they had been already. When the attack came, there was almost no warning.

 

"Do you hear-," Lynaia started to ask, turning, as her sharp hearing caught the sound of running feet. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a form come running with from a side tunnel, in an instant covering the distance and crashing into one of the templar, who had only time to scream before the thing ducked its head and ripped upward, carrying the man's throat away in its teeth.

Beside her, Veran quickly un-shuttered his lantern, the momentarily blinding light revealing the thing's rotting flesh, and eyes that glowed with an infernal power, its teeth dripping red.

 

"Ghoul!" Veran yelled, lunging forwards and slashing with his sword, catching the monster on the side of its head, the blade crunching through flesh and bone and cleaving its skull in two.

 

She couldn't repress a shudder of revulsion at the thing even as its mostly-headless body collapsed to the tunnel floor, but there was no time to dwell on it. "Veran, more of them!" she yelled, hearing more runners rapidly approaching.

 

"Take off their heads!" Veran ordered the templars and Ebonguards as they readied their weapons and shields, un-shuttered lanterns being dropped to the floor to free their hands. Then waves of ghouls emerged from the darkness from all sides, rushing them with inhuman speed, and everything dissolved into chaos.

 

***

 

Lynaia lashed out left and right with her staff, bringing it down with bone-crushing force on any ghoul that came near. The ghouls' flesh smoked and crumbled to ash wherever she hit them, for such servants of evil could neither bear nor withstand the touch of anything divine, such as the holy symbols which covered the surface of her staff. So as the ghouls came at her, they died, skulls crushed where they stood or knocked to the ground and the butt of her staff driven through their rotten flesh and decayed bone.

 

It was brutal sickening work, and if she had had even a moment to think, the horror of it might have overwhelmed her. But there was no time, there was only action and reaction, her body moving instinctively through the strikes, blocks, and dodges that had been so thoroughly drilled into her growing up. No thinking was required, it was all muscle memory.

 

It was much the same for the men around her. The templar and Ebonguards took off limbs and heads with nearly every slash of their swords, though some found themselves fighting ghouls armed with swords or other weapons and were forced to clash blades with creatures far stronger and more vicious than themselves. Through the melee, she occasionally caught glimpses of Veran, his face locked in a snarl as he hacked his way through the undead horde. They fought with great skill and greater courage, cutting down many ghouls, but it wasn't enough.

 

One by one they fell. The Inquisitor, Kyle, fell early on, knocked down by three ghouls and torn apart before anyone could so much as turn to help, the Ebonguard beside him occupied with two ghouls of his own. As the minutes dragged on, more and more fell, their skill and valor no match for the seemingly endless horde of inhumanly strong and untiring abominations. And the ghouls were becoming better armed all the time, many picking up the blades of the fallen and turning them against their former owners' comrades.

 

So she saw the men fall around her, one by one, until only a few of them were left, pulling back to form a semicircle against one of the tunnel walls. Lynaia stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Veran, striking out again and again as the ghouls charged.

 

"Veran, can you keep them off me for a few moments?" she asked as the ghouls were driven back for an instant, for she had been struck by an idea, and she cursed herself for not thinking of it before. But then, it might not have worked before. It still might not work now.

 

"We can hold them! What are you going to do?"

 

"I'm going to pray," she responded simply, falling back to the tunnel wall, the templar closing up the line in front of her. She was right below one of the drainage grates in the street above, and pale moonlight washed over her as she started to pray, speaking in her native elvish tongue. "Selene, goddess of the moon: Your humble servant is in danger, surrounded by evil and death."

 

As she spoke, two more men fell. There were now only four of them left in total: her, Veran, one Ebonguard, and one templar, the three men struggling to keep the undead away from her. Though trembling, she didn't stop. "Please, help us. Let your divine light purge the evil and banish all shadows. I beg of you, please help us."

 

For a moment she thought that there was no response and a sense of hopelessness filled her, as she could see that Veran and the other two would be overrun any second now. Then a curious phenomenon caught her eye: The moonlight that streamed through the grate overhead seemed to be thickening, coalescing around her left hand, its color changing and becoming golden. In an instant, her gauntleted hand was wreathed in golden flames.

 

She felt no pain. Rather, her blood felt hot, charged with power as an intense courage rose within her like a purging fire, banishing any hint of fear or despair. For what was evil in the face of something so pure and good? And what was darkness in the face of such blinding light?

 

Without a conscious thought, Lynaia felt her hand lift —as though someone else had grasped it and was moving it for her. The holy fire leapt in a wave from her fingertips towards the ghouls, washing over them and in an instant reducing the entire horde present to dust, the evil that created and sustained the ghouls utterly destroyed by the touch of that most pure and holy of substances. Then, as quickly as they came, the golden flames were gone, and gloom returned to the charnel house that the tunnel had become.

 

For several seconds, no one said a word. "Lynaia, did you....?" Veran asked, turning to look at her, a somewhat stunned expression on his face.

 

"I only asked," she replied melancholically. "Selene answered. I wish I'd thought of it sooner."

 

"That's not your fault, Lynaia," Veran said gently. "You did everything you could."

 

She knew he was right, but she still felt awful. "So what do we do now?" she asked mechanically.

 

"We have to find Jaryl and the others, tell them what happened and help them. Hopefully they haven't been ambushed too...."

 

"What about the bodies, Sir?" the other surviving templar, a young blonde-haired man, asked as he picked up one of the surviving lanterns.

 

Veran sighed. "We have to leave them for now, but when this is all over we'll come back and give them a proper burial. Now let's move out."

 

"He's right. It's unpleasant, but the mission comes first." said the sole surviving Ebonguard, giving the young templar a reassuring pat on the shoulder. It was the first normal human gesture she had seen from any of the Inquisition's masked soldiers.

 

"Jaryl's group should be this way," Lynaia said after a moment spent puzzling out the various intersecting tunnels, gesturing at one of them.

 

"Right," Veran replied. "Lead on."

 

With a wordless nod she turned to set off down the indicated tunnel, the young templar behind her, the Ebonguard behind him, and Veran bringing up the rear, watching their backs. She had hardly taken a few steps when a horrific noise, something like the sound of a butcher cutting meat, suddenly assaulted her ears. She turned back in time to witness the young templar, blood pouring from his mouth, collapse in two pieces —in an instant cut clean through armor, flesh, and bone, from shoulder to opposite hip. And then the thing stepped out of the side tunnel and into the light of the young templar's dropped lantern.

 

Goddess have mercy.... She was nearly paralyzed with fear as it revealed itself. It almost filled the tunnel, both in width and height, and it was bent over at that, she suspected that fully erect it would stand at least eight feet tall. Its features were horrific, an amalgamation of decaying flesh, bone, and sinew. And indeed that's what it was, an amalgamation: Numerous dead bodies fused into a single construct and animated by unholy magic. She had heard tales of such things, but had never believed them, never wanted to believe that such a horror as a necrogolem could truly exist.

 

The monster raised its arm —its hand holding a massive sword which most men would struggle to wield with two hands, but which it held with only one. She leapt back before the strike, barely avoiding being cleaved in two, the thing's speed far greater than seemed possible for something its size.

 

"HEY!"

 

The necrogolem turned at Veran's yell, twisting itself around with incredible speed, its monstrous sword clanging as it intercepted Veran's blade. Past the thing's horrific bulk she could see the shock and horror on Veran's face, the realization that  they stood no chance against this nightmare.

 

"Lynaia, run!" he shouted. "I'll hold it off!"

 

"No!" she yelled back. She wouldn't leave her friend to die. Rushing forwards, she smashed her staff into one of the thing's legs with all the force she could muster. Bone splintered and the necrogolem's unholy flesh smoldered at the impact, but it didn't even flinch, merely turning back with unnatural speed and swiping at her with its monstrous sword. She was able to duck under the attack in the nick of time, and was showered with stone fragments as the thing's blade cut a divot into the stone wall of the tunnel.

 

"NO! Over here you bastard!" she heard Veran yell, the necrogolem turning back to block another of his strikes. A moment later, it struck back, nearly knocking Veran's sword from his grasp with the force of its blow and pitching him to the ground. It would have finished him right then, but the Ebonguard rushed forwards and parried its strike. In response, the monstrosity brought up its other arm and punched the Ebonguard in the chest, sending the man flying into the tunnel wall where he then crumpled to the floor. Veran was back on his feet a moment later.

 

"Lynaia, get out of here." Veran spoke, his voice scarily calm as he faced down the undead monstrosity, standing between it and the fallen Ebonguard, who she could see was struggling to regain his feet.

 

"I won't leave you," she replied, trying to figure out where she might do the most damage to the thing.

 

"Lynaia, please. You have to warn Jaryl and the others-" He broke off as the necrogolem struck again, barely managing to parry the ferocious attack. "Only one of us can make it away from here and I want it to be you! So go!"

 

"Veran-" she started, feeling as though her heart were being crushed.

 

"No," he cut her off. "If we both die down here then all of this might be for naught-" he ducked as the monster lunged, its blade narrowly missing him. "So go, please!" he begged, counterattacking with a furious rain of blows, most of which were blocked, and the few that weren't doing little more than cutting unfeeling flesh.

 

She could see how tired he was, but he was still standing, facing the thing down fearlessly. She could feel tears pouring down her face as a horrible calm came over her. Veran was right: The city, the innocent people sleeping above came first.

 

He must have seen the look on her face. "It's alright, go on. Besides," he continued, and even in the dim flickering light she could make out his smile as he lied to her. "I'll be just fine."

 

As she backed away, Veran and the necrogolem rushed together again, exchanging blows with furious speed and strength. But rapidly Veran was forced into pure defense, able to do nothing but block desperately as the creature rained blow after monstrous blow on him, forcing him backwards. Then the undead abomination brought its blade down in an overhead chop and there was a resounding crash as his sword blade snapped just above the hilt, the tempered steel shattering like glass under the force of the blow.

 

"Lynaia-!" she heard him yell as he reached for the war hammer at his belt, and for an instant she thought she saw the Ebonguard rushing back in to aid him. But then the necrogolem's bulk blocked her view and, choking back a sob, she turned and ran.

 

Tunnel walls flashed past in a blur as she ran, barely visible in the all-enshrouding darkness. She had to rely on hearing as much as sight to navigate, judging by the echoes when she was passing an intersection, and taking turns based almost solely on instinct, praying that her sense of direction wouldn't fail her in the labyrinthine maze of sewers. Her chest burned and her breath was rasping in her ears, but she wouldn't slow down or stop, not until she found either Jaryl or a way out of the sewers.

 

It might have been that she was focused on any sign of Jaryl's group or a way to the surface to the exclusion of all else, it might have been that the stygian darkness was too much for even her sharp eyes to pierce, or by sheer bad luck she might have been looking elsewhere at that exact critical instant. Whatever the reason, she didn't notice the hole until the ground fell out from beneath her feet.

 

***


"This means I will not have to regret sending back their envoy short a few limbs."

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#7 Amarok

Amarok

    Queen's champion

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Posted 18 October 2014 - 02:31 PM

Ooooh, that was really good! Way to get me excited for the next part with that cliff-hanger! :P

 

I really like the atmosphere that you set with your descriptions, and the dialogue and action were well written and flowed very nicely!

 

Keep it up! :D


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#8 Lord_Capulet

Lord_Capulet

    Silently judging you

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Posted 19 October 2014 - 10:29 PM

Well, Rokky took most of what I was going to say, so I shall compliment the intricate detail of your fight scenes and the way you look at the emotions of each character, even the currently unnamed ones.  The Ebonguard breaking the trend of sternness to comfort that Templar was a nice touch.

 

I eagerly await the sequel!


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Above image created by Saber-Scorpion and meme'd by me.

 

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