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Hero's Song - Chapter Thirteen

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"Grobnar I need you in the back with Qara; you'll just be in the way anywhere else and I need all the spells I can get," I whispered fiercely. I was crouched behind an old, rotting wooden door that (supposedly) let to the interior of Crossroad Keep. I found it ironic that we had a plethora of Many-Starred-Cloaks at our command and not a one of them could open the damn front gate. So who's job was it to find a different passage in and...well, basically, unlock the door?

I was staring into a small sea of faces, issuing hissing instructions while trying to listen for anything on the other side of the door. "And Neeshka, I need you to see if you can distract whoever or whatever is holding that gate shut so Vale can get in. I'd rather have them fighting with us when we do have to fight. "

"And what shall I do, bard? Trim my nails?"

I looked up into Bishop's face in the near-darkness. "Trim their heads off their damn necks. And don't die." My voice came out forceful, thick with feeling, and I turned quickly, thankful it was dark and Bishop's eyes were human. Carefully, with agonizing slowness, I pushed against the hinges, and winced as the bolts nearly screamed with protest.

"Oops," whispered Neeshka, who's job it had been to oil the hinges. "Sorry, got distracted by all the instructions..."

"Is anyone there?" A quavering voice called out in the light of what looked like a library, if said library had been attacked by a book-eating umber hulk. I slipped inside carefully, motioning the others to stay put, and tip-toed around the corner. Sure enough, there Aldanon sat, cross-legged on the floor with a look of childish delight on his face as he glanced up from a crumbling tome. "Have you ever seen a library like this before?"

I signaled, and my companions crowded in after me. "Like this?" I gazed around the disastrous room. "No. I can honestly say I've never seen a library like this before."

"I have!" piped in Grobnar.

"Shut up, gnome," said Bishop.

"All right!"

"Look, Master Aldanon..." I knelt next to him in the dust. "We're here to rescue you. Are you all right? Have they hurt you?"

"Rescue me? Oh, I can't possibly leave right now, I'm helping this young man with a ritual, you see; seemed pretty insistent that he needed it soon, so as you see I must stay and..."

I quirked an eyebrow at the wizard. "Ritual?"

Casavir stepped forward. "We should get him to safety before we start questioning him; for all we know, he could be injured, or..."

I held up an impatient hand in his direction, my eyes on Aldanon. "What kind of ritual?" I pressed. A dooming sense of urgency was falling on me; something was happening, and I was going to know about it.

"Well, it's some silly thing if you ask me. They're trying to steal the power from this King of Shadows creature, sort of switch places with him, rather daft. I told them not to try something like this, dangerous, you know."

Shite. "Did you tell them how to perform the ritual?!" I wasn't doing a good job of keeping the panic out of my voice, but Aldanon didn't seem to pick up on it.

"Well yes, they asked me to figure out how it worked. It's quite simple really; the trick is not losing your focus, or else the whole thing'll just blow up in your face."

I stood quickly. "Time to go," I said. "Master Aldanon, you need to leave the way we came and wait for me at the front of the keep, all right?"

"All right, but do please try to keep this library intact. I would love to come back here some time and go through-"

"Go! Now!"

He blinked at me in surprise, said hmph, and hurried out behind us. I kicked my way through several layers of rotting paper to the other door, and listened, ear pressed against it. I could hear voices.

I glanced back at my companions, and nodded. Taking a deep breath, I stepped back, made a lightning fast prayer to Deneir, and slammed my booted foot into the door, sending it rocking back on it's hinges.

The next few minutes were the typical shouting, confusion, and classic foray in blood and violence in which I almost lost an ear and took a morning-star in my kneecap, which left me with a lovely limp. And when Neeshka finally managed to stab one of the mages in the leg and interrupt his spell causing the gate to stick shut, it was a clamor of battling magics and explosions, and I could barely see enough to swing my blade, let alone at someone who I could barely recognize as an enemy. When the magefire finally cleared, Vale was standing in the midst of smoking, charred bodies, and he was grinning at me triumphantly.

I said, breathlessly. "Thank you for saving our lives. Please heal us, before we all bleed out on the damn floor."

I limped over to him as he bent down over Grobnar, who, like always, ignored what I had told him and had a nasty scalp wound. He grinned at me cheerfully through a mask of blood. "I say, I should start keeping track of all these fights! I might even notch my crossbow, like Sir Bishop does his longbow."

I quirked an eyebrow at him, watching as his wound closed before my eyes in response to Vale's chanting. "Notch? What, like counting your kills?" I smiled at that. "How many people do you plan on killing, Grobnar?"

"Well, I don't tend to make it a hobby for pleasure, but I do seem to be making quite a name for myself. I could see the fear in their eyes as I charged them with Old Hobshanks, here." Grobnar patted the incredibly ornate looking crossbow; it had more knobs, wheels, cogs, gears, and levers on it than any contraption that I'd ever seen. The one thing I doubted it did have was a safety catch.

"Aye. I can see how they'd be terrified." I tried to keep my voice level, but I heard Khelgar snickering off to my right. Vale glanced at my knee in dismay, and immediately began the chant again, this time his hand on my leg.

I sighed happily as the spell took effect, and walked a few paces experimentally. Vale's other 'Cloaks were aiding my companions, and when we were all generally patched up, we began moving again. We were met with dark hallways and oppressive silence; and somewhere in the distance, I imagined I heard chanting. At first I thought I was imagining it in my worry, but then Bishop whispered in my ear "I hear chanting," and Sand announced "I can feel magic in the air. Someone's casting a spell, and it's a powerful one."

Suddenly, a wave of nausea shot through me and I bent over, clutching my aching stomach. My head reeled, and I could tell from the general sounds of dismay that I was not the only one experiencing this. Vale said in a quavering voice, "They're performing the ritual. We don't have time..."

BOOM. The door at the end of the hall burst open, and I heard the clank, clank, clank of footsteps. Heavy, metal footsteps.

I enormous metal blade swept towards me, and I arched backwards , my nose almost touching the ground behind me as the sword slashed the air where my torso had been. I saw jets of magic missle fly over my head as I straightened, and multiple arrows zipped by my ears, thudding into a giant, metal construct. The blade was swinging downwards towards my head again; my scimitars were up, ready to block the blow, but when it came it knocked me onto my back with the force of a mountain behind it.

"Damn it!" I shouted. "Use magic, weapons aren't going to work!"

I rolled as the golem sent another swipe of it's sword-appendage my way, then leapt to my feet, only to dodge yet another attack from the construct. Did this thing exclusively have it in for me? Everyone scattered in my wake and I hurriedly backed up, eyes wide, staring at the gingantic thing that thundered towards me. "I'd appreciate it if you all would do something!" I shouted, leaping aside as the thing took another swing at me. It's blade gouged a hole into the stone wall, sending a shower of sparks into the air.

"Magic!" growled Bishop, giving Qara a none-too-gentle shove.

Sand was shooting magic missles from his fingers, but the golem was taking minimal damage and studiously ignoring them. Sand practically screamed at Qara, "Come on, you useless girl! Don't just stand there!"

She glared at him, but chased after the golem, who was following me around the room as I tried to dance out of the reach of it's sword. A fireball blasted into it's head, and the smell of singed hair filled my nostrils as the flames reached out from the smoldering golem and licked at the end of my braid. I quickly slapped the fire out out, but the distraction was enough; the golem lurched awkwardly forward, still smoking, and the blade drove with a sickening slicing noise straight into my gut.

I stared in shock at the sword protruding from my middle, but constructs have no sense of the dramatic; before I'd had a chance to even register the spreading, white hot lance of pain, the blade was sliding out of me, and my legs seemed to stop working. The golem readied for another blow, and I inhaled with agonizing slowness; the room seemed unusually bright. Elanee screamed "Harper!", Sand swore a string of curses and threw a barrage of magic at the construct, sending it staggering backwards and away from me. Khelgar hurled himself bodily on the thing, the continuous hammering of his axe against it's head filling the room with a clanging noise not unlike the tolling of a bell. I peeled my hand from my midsection and looked at it; it was stained with deep crimson blood, which was spilling out of me in a river.

"Someone heal me," I said; or tried to. My voice came out in a choking gurgle, and I coughed, blood splatterng the flagstones. Elanee thrust a healing spell into the wound, but the blood still came, and I remember vaguely watching the pool spread before my eyes and wondering if the stones would stain from it. Casavir's hands were on my face, cool and dry. "Harper, look at me."

I tried to focus. I was thinking about Deneir, and how I had always followed him and Tymora, yet my luck had never seemed to improve. I was wondering if this was their doing, if my brush with the githyanki, with Lorne, and right now, were all just hints that they were calling me to them...maybe it was time I just let go of all these wearying responsibilities, and finally slept for good. I began to close my eyes; there were these odd shadows clinging to my vision that wouldn't go away...


I blinked. Casavir's face had been replaced by Bishop's; his nose was almost touching mine. "Focus, woman. Right now!"

His voice was sharp, angry, and I watched as the blur of his face suddenly became clear. I could hear Casavir praying in the background. Bishop waved a hand in front of my eyes. "Still here? Good." His mouth was a firm, thin line; his eyes were furious. "You die, and I will find you, do you hear me? I will personally hunt you down in the Shadow King's army, and kill you again for dying."

My mind was a white static of pain; shadows danced across my vision, laughing at me. I tried to tell him that Deneir would take care of me, but my voice just rattled in my throat. That seemed to make him angrier; he snarled at Casavir. "Pray faster, paladin!"

The clanging stopped in the background, and I saw the head of the blade golem roll across the floor. Then a bolt of sheer bliss shot through me, and I let out a cry; I could feel the magic repairing my wound, like small, white hot lances sewing the skin back together. And then suddenly, it stopped, like a candle snuffed out, and Casavir sat back, exhausted.

I was helped into a sitting position by a multitude of hands. I looked down at the gaping slash still in my stomach; it now looked merely more than a shallow flesh wound, but it hurt like hells, and I was still losing blood, though thankfully I no longer added to the seeping puddle that had collected on the ground. Vale looked worried. "Squire, I'm sorry; all our magics are spent. We cannot heal you from this point onward."

I steadied my breathing, nodding to show I understood. "Khelgar?" I rasped, my voice like sandpaper on stone.

"Here." His face was in front of me. "Knocked the damn thing's head off."

I nodded. Getting to my feet was a struggle, but once I was upright I felt less like a damsel in distress and more like...well, a damsel in distress who was standing on her own two feet with a sword in her hand. The feeling was an important one in my priority listing.

Qara wouldn't meet my eyes until I spoke her name. I nodded at her, ignoring her horrified expression. "We go on."

She swallowed, nodded. I stayed towards the middle of the group this time, as I was near useless as a point man. And I just couldn't resist a solid, heartfelt kick as we passed the broken, immobile form of the defeated construct. Sand was behind me, helping me walk when and if I needed it, and after all that had just happened, he still managed a chuckle.

o o o o o o

The door to his chamber slammed open, and bodies poured into the room. He ignored them, merely shouting to his bodyguards to dispatch them, before returning to the chant.

He felt a growing darkness in the room, unseen to naked, mortal eyes. A presence was centering itself on him, and with growing delight, Garius realized that the King of Shadows was here. The ritual was working.

Vaguely he watched as the red-haired elf, pale and covered in blood, fought with one hand pressed tightly against her side. A voice whispered in his head, Yes. She's the one. She must be destroyed. She can not be allowed into the heart of our sanctuary. Garius felt a sliver of doubt in his mind...our sanctuary? Surely, the ritual would obliterate any sentience still attached to the King of Shadows, leaving Garius with all it's power. A tiny particle of unease wound it's way around his heart.

Suddenly, one of the bodyguards fell backwards from a particularly hefty blow from the tall, black-haired knight; he slammed bodily into one of Garius' mages, and the man stumbled slightly. "You're not concentrating--" Garius began shouting.

And then the world seemed to collapse.

Shadows spilled from the corners, jumping on the fallen mage like vultures on a corpse. The mage screamed, causing the others to stop their chanting and stare. As soon as their concentration was broken, the shadows leapt on to them, and Garius knew that he had made an enormous mistake. The mages clawed at him as they fell, and shadowy fiends surrounded him, their arms encircling him in a death-like vise. One of them rose in front of him like a mist, and glowing red eyes filled his vision.

"Come," it whispered to him. "Our master awaits you."

o o o o o o

We looked around the debris, silence settling over the remnants of our battle. My left arm was slung over Casavir's shoulder; he had brooked no argument when making himself my temporary crutch, and I was secretly grateful that I didn't have to stand on my own power. I was getting tired of being injured; Khelgar's and Casavir's thick armor looked more and more appealing with every passing day.

Vale sounded pleased. "It's ironic that they were undone by their own ritual," he said smugly, examining the corpses.

"Whatever Garius has been doing, no doubt it's been slowly strengthening the King of Shadows' hold on the Mere, " said Elanee gravely. "I can feel his taint in these walls."

Sand nodded. "Aye, I feel it too."

"I feel nothing," said Qara disdainfully. "I think you both are making it up. Or losing your minds."

"If you had any knowledge whatsoever about matters arcane, you ignorant girl, you'd know better;" Sand's hands had curled into fists during his tirade, and Qara was squaring off in front of him, her face furious.

"Enough," I said, my voice tight with pain. "We need to leave."

"Aye, we need attention for our wounds...Harper, especially." Casavir's voice rumbled next to me, calm and cool.

"Oh, yes. And if your worthless god had any sort of real power, she'd have been healed long ago, along with the rest of us." Bishop's voice was sharper than steel; his eyes burned with pure hatred as he glared at the paladin.

Casavir straightened automatically, a fiery retort on his lips, and I was jarred painfully, standing on my tip-toes. "Vale," I croaked, "get us out of here."

Blinding light surrounded us as the mage obliged, and the walls of the keep disappeared.

Hero's Song - Chapter 13 © Avariel

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