She pointed at a last person, this time a very-old looking elf in plate armor.
" And that's Virgo Sunsword over there with those people. He's a lot nicer in person than you probably think he is. The first time I went to the council, he actually gave me a courtesy bow! I felt like I was gonna die that day."
She twirled around and faced Alice.
" And that's everyone, I think. At least half of the elven council is here, plus some minor families. Do you understand why they wanted the security now?"
" I guess. It's still probably not necessary."
Serena sat down in a nearby chair and crossed her arms. She sighed.
" I agree, but I didn't really get a say in things. Y'know, a lot of people really seem to like making decisions for me. I can at least be grateful no one in my own family is like that."
" It's just like, I'm an all-powerful archmage, (or at least I will be in the future,) and these stupid people think that they know whats best for me! I really hate it!"
Serena began to rant, and Alice decided to humor her and listen. Nearby, leaning against a tree, her father sat and watched his daughter and her friend. He smiled, happy for her friendship. But he soon stopped, for he felt a familiar force that had decided to visit.
" Hello there, Roygo." She seductively whispered as she crept up from behind him.
Roygo didn't move from his spot. He waited for her to come to his side, and then looked over at her. Even though she had chosen an otherwise very inconspicuous form, the scale-y skin around her eyes gave away her divinity. She smiled, and set her gaze upon Serena.
" So, how's she been? It feels like it's been ages since I last checked up on her."
" She's fine. And I think she's really happy right now. Well, besides the tangent she's on right now."
" Mmm..." Quintara Lotus licked her lips with a forked tongue. " She's growing into quite a fine young woman. How old is she now? 15? 16?"
" Oh! It certainly has been longer than I thought, then. Maybe I should go apologize for forgetting?"
She said this last sentence with an air of playfulness about it.
" No, I don't think so."
Quintara pouted. " So you haven't told her yet? Have you told anyone?"
" I told my son a long time ago. But that's it. I'll tell her when I think she's ready."
" When you think she's ready, or when you think you're ready?"
He didn't respond to that question. He didn't want to.
" Ah, so I hit the mark. Okay, I wont do anything. A pity. I'm really looking forward to actually getting to talk to her one of these years, Roygo. You owe it to me."
" I know that. Don't you have some wishes to grant or something?"
" Oh, in your dreams, little man. I can stay here alllll day. But I wont. Because I'm not an ass."
She went back behind the tree to begin her teleportation. She was almost done when she realized something she had forgotten to ask. She turned back to Roygo.
" Oh, by the way, who's that other little thing she's with?"
" Her friend."
Quintara Lotus surveyed Alice's body.
" Mmm... excellent form on that one! She chose well, even if that dwelf doesn't have the proficiency for any magic. Oh well, no stopping it now. I'll take my leave."
She went back to her magic, and was soon gone. Roygo breathed a sigh of relief. She always complicated things when she came around. But he couldn't exactly refuse her. He went back to overlooking his daughter, who was now sitting down after her rant. She realized he was watching her and waved at him. He waved back. Smiling, she got up and led Alice away.
Serena led Alice down the hall, pointing at various things hanging from the walls.
"... That's the shield Lance got when he defeated a pack of ogres that were threatening a town... and that's the first staff I ever got, before I realized that they were kinda useless... that one over there is a painting of me and Rohbear Leomaris..."
She came up to a pedestal at the end of the hall. On a pillow, under a glass case, lie what looked like a simple locket.
" Oh, this thing is super cool. Check this out."
She proceeded to open up the case and take the locket out, and then opened it. Immediately, what appeared to be tiny spirits started emerging from the space inside, ravanously screeching at the both of them. Serena grinned, and Alice clutched her ears. She promptly shut the lid, and the harsh attack stopped. Alice looked up, bewildered.
" What the fuck was that?!"
" I told you it was cool! My dad confiscated it from a cultist when he was in the G.P.O. They took out all of the Dark Magic and it was pretty much useless, so he thought it'd make a neat keepsake. None of the stuff we just saw or heard was actually hurting us, but it is pretty annoying, huh?"
" I'll say! I feel like my eardrum is bleeding."
They began to walk back outside after Alice's tour had concluded, when Serena asked the question that she had been fearing.
" So... I didn't notice you carrying anything, or Vann before she ran off with my little brother when you got here. Did you forget to get me a present? I don't really care if you did, I'm just sorta confused because you had plenty of time to remember and... y'know, get one."
" Uh, no-no-no-no, I definitely remembered to get you something! Here, just let me, uh..."
She began desperately digging around in her bag of holding for something of value.
" Alice... you know you don't have to do whatever... you're doing in there. I'm fine."
Alice took her head out of the bag and sheepishly looked at Serena.
Serena laughed. " It's fine, seriously! Let's just go enjoy my party. I'm sure it's almost time for lunch, right?"
" Probably. And I am kinda hungry."
" That's the spirit! Let's go get something to eat."
They made their way to the front of the house. Serena put her handle on the doorknob, but suddenly she pulled away and knocked herself on the head.
" Oh shoot! I forgot something in my room. Will you wait here while I go get it?"
" Oh, sure."
Serena quickly ran upstairs and went to her bedroom. She opened the drawer on her bedside table and pulled out an elaborately designed dagger. This dagger was made of gold and silver, an obviously expensive weapon. It had been a gift from Roygo, and she was neglecting her promise to keep it with her at all times. She was very serious about keeping this promise to her father, and she wasn't about to break it on her birthday, of all days. She stuck it into it's small sheathe, and then proceeded to stick that down into the recesses of her boot. Satisfied when she felt it reach her calf, she went to her bathroom and rinsed her face of any sweat.
Wiping her face off with a towel, Serena began to walk back to her bedroom door. She threw the towel over at the bedside table, and twisted the doorknob.
It didn't budge.
Confused, Serena took her other hand began jiggling the doorknob again.
" What the heck," She thought to herself. " This door doesn't lock from the outside. What's going on?"
Turning around, she realized that her balcony door was open. Did she leave it like that? No, she hadn't been there since that morning. Serena, trusting her instinct, sent out a wave of ice across the room, looking for any invisible intruders. Nothing appeared, except for the ice-y stains she had just left on her walls. Still confused about the things in her room, she began walking towards the balcony. She was about halfway across the room when she heard a soft footfall behind her. She quickly turned and shot out a second wave, this time of fire. Whatever was there, she had hit it. The invisibility slowly wore off, and the shape of a large man started to take place. Serena immediately backed up from this stranger.
When she could finally see his face fully, it was hidden by a mask. He only had a small tuft of hair at the front of his head, and he looked intimidating. He surprised Serena by beginning to speak.
" Ah, Ms. Gilamore. I thought you wouldn't be able to detect me. Guess I was mistaken. But I am a bit impressed at the fact that you managed to hit me. So this makes it a bit harder for me to do this next part, also taking into consideration that you're a pretty, young lady."
" W-what?" Serena stammered. She got ready to defend herself.
This stranger gave her no explanation, and no time to react to anything. He flung himself into the air, and pushed off of the wall with incredible agility. Serena saw a small, silver object leave his hand a millisecond before it pierced her chest, all while he was still midair.
She gasped and fell to the ground in pain.
Serena looked down at what at entered her body. It was just a small throwing-knife. She suddenly writhed in pain, and momentarily felt better. She didn't understand what was happening to her body.
Ghostblade walked up to his victim, and crouched down next to her. Her breath was ragged and she couldn't focus properly. He tapped her on the forehead.
" Poison, my young friend. One of the more powerful toxins that I use. I wasn't sure if you'd be able to survive or not, but that healing thing of yours is doin' the trick, isn't it?"
Serena gasped in pain again as a wave of poison washed over her before her body fought it off. Tears were forming in her eyes at the excruciating pain she felt.
" Don't worry kid, you wont have to worry about it soon. Trust me."
This wave of pain and healing went on for several moments, each time putting Serena through horrendous pain, before momentary relief kicked in.
She suddenly felt a burst of energy, and used it to blast Ghostblade with a beam of arcane energy while he was talking. He was surprised, and leaped over to the opposite side of the room before he was disintegrated. The beam tore through the wall and the roof, arching high into the sky. Serena took the assassin's momentary shock to pull the knife out of her stomach, and shakily stood up. She fell back against the bedroom door.
" Listen, girl. You got a lucky shot in, but I'm not like all the two-bit fucking idiots that you might've fought before. You're in no shape to fight after that poisoning, and now I know not to underestimate you. So just surrender, and it'll make this a lot easier for the both of us."
Serena responded by picking up the knife with her telekinesis and flinging it at him. Ghostblade ducked, and the knife dug into the wall behind him.
" Well, maybe you have some spirit left after all! Eh, no matter."
Serena primed up a fireball in her hands. It was more of a magma-ball, the molten liquid dripping onto and through the floor of her bedroom.
" And that looks pretty powerful, too! Could definitely do some damage if it hit me."
Serena angrily lobbed it at him. He didn't move from his spot, instead taking out a pair of metal rods. He flicked them to the left, and the roaring ball flung itself off-course, crashing into the wall. Serena was utterly confused. Ghostblade folded up the rods and stuck them back in his pocket.
" There sure are some nifty little gadgets you can buy these days. Y'know, we didn't really have any of this gnome shit back when I started out as an assassin. Just our skill, and of course whatever weapons we could carry."
" Shut up!"
" Oh, so you want me to stop talking and start attacking? I can work with that."
He instantly charged straight towards her, throwing several more of his poison-laced knives. She blinked to the side; a move that Ghostblade had anticipated. He side-stepped to get in her face and brought out a small scroll in his hand, which he proceeded to crush. All of a sudden, a blinding light erupted from the scroll and Serena found herself without vision. She staggered backwards, and a few seconds later she regained her sight, but was still heavily disoriented and could barely see straight. Ghostblade moved in towards her.
Serena blinked to the balcony behind him, hoping to jump off and find some onlookers from the explosion to help her. She took a lurching step forward when she was grabbed from both sides and flung backwards into the waiting arms of Ghostblade. He wrapped his arms as tightly around her body as he could, pinning her arms down. Disoriented and confused, Serena didn't really know what was happening. She saw two blurry shapes run into her room, and she felt something metal lock around her neck.
" Alright, hurry the fuck up!" Said a female voice coming from the left.
Serena began regaining her senses as Ghostblade dropped her on the floor. She reached up to feel what had been put around her neck, but her arms were seized by what felt like a dozen people at once and held together behind her back. Coils of thick rope began curling around her wrists and the area above and below her elbows.
" Hey, what are you doing?!"
Realizing that she was being restrained, Serena quickly attempted to blink away. When she felt she was about to be teleported, she instead received a shockwave of lightning across her entire body. The kidnappers dropped her as she started convulsing on the ground in a fit of pain. As soon as the attack stopped, she again tried to escape by creating a torrent of flame from her hands to burn the ropes. She was rocked by another shock from the collar, and cried out in pain for a second time as smoke rose from her body.
" Shit, she's just gonna keep trying. Get the stuff out." The female voice commanded of someone nearby.
Finally able to fully open them, Serena laid eyes on the two newcomers; two dwarves that each had an extra pair of arms. Serena, never having met a goro before, was stupefied by this mutation. She was so perplexed that she had almost forgotten about the fact that her arms were now stiffly stuck behind her back. She began struggling, and looked over at who the female goro had been giving orders to.
The other goro was digging around in a rucksack for something. Eventually, he found what he was looking for, and did something that Serena couldn't see, as he was facing away from her. The female goro was firmly holding her in place while he worked.
" Alright, I'm ready." The goro turned around, holding an empty bottle and a rag in his hands.
Serena warily leaned back as he approached her.
" What are you gonna do with those? Don't you dare come near me!"
" Just shut up already."
" Hey, what the he--MMFFGH?!" Serena was cut off as the goro shoved the rag over her nose and mouth. She kicked and shook her head, but eight beats two in a competition of limbs, and the goros' used each of them with efficiency to hold her down. Despite her struggles, she eventually had to stop holding her breath, and inhaled a giant whiff of the chloroform. A few seconds later, her movements gradually stopped, until she was unconscious. After her body went limp, the goros continued their task of binding her. Ghostblade put his ear up to the bedroom door, listening for any footfalls in the hallway.
" So, how's that old thing holding up?"
The man flexed his mechanical arm in response to the question. His bionic fingers whirled all the way to the back of his hand and then forward into his palm.
" I'd say pretty good."
" That's good. You know, we could still replace the real one if you want."
Seymour sighed. " Roygo, no matter how many times you offer, the answer is still the same."
" Alright, I'll stop nagging you. Moving to a different topic, how's Linn?"
" Oh, she's doing great. She just wasn't really in the mood for travelling. The baby's expected any week now, and she wanted to be home for it. But don't worry, she sent her best regards with me for Serena. Speaking of which, where is the birthday girl? Y'know, we never really got the chance to thank her properly."
" I think she's giving the grand tour of the house to one of her friends. She's probably not done yet."
At that moment, a boom was heard coming from the back of the house, and a beam of magical energy sliced through the sky. Everyone turned their attention to the smoke now rising from the manor.
" What the hell?" Seymour started, as he looked over at the house. Many of the guests were equally confused by the spell that had just gone off. A few minutes of uneasy tension passed among them.
Lancelot came running over to his father.
" Dad, that came from Serena's room. Let's go. Now."
Roygo nodded, becoming equally worried about whatever had just happened. He and Lance rushed towards the house, Seymour and some of the guards following behind them. They quickly passed through the front door, startling Alice, who had been waiting there.
" What the hell was that noise just now? Was that an explosion?"
" That's what we're going to find out." Without another word, the group kept moving. Alice followed them upstairs, towards Serena's bedroom. Lance reached it first, and was confused to find that the doorknob wouldn't turn. He banged on the door with his fist.
" Serena! What the hell is going on in there? What did you do?"
Lance put his head closer to the door, and thought that he heard the sound of shuffling feet on the other side.
" Serena? Serena!" Lance grew angry.
Roygo pulled him to the side and knocked on the door himself.
" Serena, this is your father. Open this door right now and tell us what just happened."
" Son of a bitch," Lance muttered under his breath. " Alright, I've had enough of this! I'm breaking down the door!"
Lance proceeded to ram his shoulder into the door, repeatedly smashing it inwards. Roygo summoned an astral hammer and flung it into the door, quickly finishing the work. Lance stepped inside first, looking for an explanation. He found it immediately.
Standing in the middle of the room was a trio of people. A tall and menacing elf with a metal mask stared him down from between two goros.
One held an array of weapons in her four hands.
And the other held an unconscious Serena over his shoulder.
Lance didn't need to see anything else.
He charged forward and drew his scimitar, trying to slash the stomach of the male goro. As his blade drew near, it was caught in the air between two, thin daggers. Ghostblade had lunged forwards to block the attack. He turned his head towards the twins.
" Get the fuck out of here, NOW!"
Heeding his command, the twins raced towards the balcony to make their escape. They were stopped in their tracks as a flash of lightning arced around the room, and Roygo landed in front of them, blocking the doorway. His hands lit up with magical lightning.
" You're not going anywhere, you little shits." He said with an air of vehemence.
The guards that had followed upstairs now began to flood the room, and the trio was quickly outnumbered. Alice and Seymour stood in the doorway, not really knowing how they could be of assistance. A brief moment of tension passed as no combatant dared to make the first move.
Suddenly, Ghostblade pulled the sword out of Lance's hands, sending it flying across the room. Lance lunged straight for the assassin, trying to strangle him, but was met with a resounding kick in the torso from Ghostblade's steel-toed boot. He flew backwards, crashing into one of the guards who had been standing behind him. They landed in a heap by the doorway.
At the same time, the rest of the guards charged towards the kidnappers. Ghostblade twirled around in the air and thrust one of his knives into the exposed throat of the nearest guard while parrying and knocking back another with his second dagger. He landed elegantly, waiting for anyone to dare try and attack him again.
Another guard attempted to thrust his sword into the gut of the female goro, but his chest cavity was crushed in with a mace at the same time a sword moved to block his own.
Roygo leaped into the air, performing a diving kick on the goro holding his daughter. The agility of the old elf surprised his younger foe, who dashed to the side just in time to avoid the lightning emitting from his foot. After tearing her mace free of the guard's smashed armor, the female twin rushed in to protect her brother. She and Roygo exchanged in a series of blows while the brother slowly crept towards the hole in the wall.
Finally having had enough, Seymour rushed into the room to help. Alice pulled a shortsword from her bag of holding and followed his lead. Ghostblade was busy dispatching of the last guard when he was taken by surprise. Seymour practically leaped on top of him, socking him in the face with his metallic arm. Ghostblade staggered back and dropped both of his daggers. Seymour took this opportunity to continue his assault, but Ghostblade was more than ready to deal with him after being blindsided.
As Seymour charged him, Ghostblade swiftly rose from his position on the floor, jabbing his hands repeatedly into Seymour's gut with enormous force. Seymour felt his ribs cracking, and fell to the ground, gasping for air. Ghostblade picked him up by the collar of his shirt and flung Seymour over his shoulder. Seymour crashed into Serena's bed, snapping one of the corner-posts and causing the canopy to fall down and cover him.
While this had transpired, Alice had quickly crept across the room, keeping her eyes fixed on Ghostblade in case he turned to her. She turned her head to survey Roygo's battle, when she realized that the male goro was no longer in the room. Panicking, she threw caution to the wind and ran to the gaping hole to look down at the yard. The goro was swiftly running across it, heading for the treeline behind the house.
Roygo pushed the sister back, where Ghostblade caught her by the shoulder before she could fall down. He turned his head to Alice, breathing heavily. She noticed a large gash on his forehead that was bleeding profusely.
" Are you any good at fighting?"
" I-I guess." Alice stammered out.
" THEN GET AFTER HIM!" He bellowed at her. He turned back to the other two and prepared to keep fighting. Alice nodded, and leaped from the manor. Rolling before she hit the ground, she landed and caught sight of the goro before he plunged into the trees. She raced after him.
Alice could still see him up ahead. He was swinging through the trees and leaping over the foliage like some kind of monkey, and Alice was starting to lag behind. She pushed forward, and at the same time dug around in her bag and pulled out her crossbow. As she ran, she sighted the scope and pulled an arrow to load it. All of a sudden, she realized that she was in the middle of a large clearing. Looking ahead, the goro was no more than halfway across. Alice took her chance and lined up a shot. She wasn't even sure if he was aware of her presence. Not aiming at any particular place or limb, she just tried to shoot him. The arrow flew forward, and Alice began loading another one when she realized that she had hit him.
The goro lurched forward and fell on his stomach, dropping Serena. Alice ran as fast as she could to try and help her friend. She got within a few feet and the goro began to stand back up. She looked at the arrow, and realized that it had sunk into his backpack.
" Oh shit." She backed up and took aim again. The goro whipped around, pulling a quartet of knives from his belt that he held in each hand. He froze when he saw who was pointing a crossbow at him. Alice didn't understand why, until he spoke.
" No way... Mayflower? Is that you?"
It was Alice's turn to freeze up. Her stomach began churning. It couldn't possibly be who she thought it was.
The goro put his knives away and took a step towards her. Alice snapped back to reality and pulled her crossbow back up.
" Stay the fuck back!"
The goro put his hands out in front of him.
" Alice, it's me! Don't you recognize me?"
It was. It was him. Alice tried to shake the thought out of her head.
" Just stay back, Axle. I don't want to have to hurt you."
" What the hell is going on, Alice? Why are you here, of all places? Why are you trying to stop me right now?"
" It's... a long story. But I can't let you take that girl."
" And why not?"
" Because she's my friend."
" Interesting. The Alice I know never really liked to make friends."
" I've changed. And like I said before, it's a long story."
" Well you know I'd never kill you. But I will hurt you. So don't make me do it, because we both know that I'm gonna win this fight."
Alice fired her crossbow. Anticipating this move, Axle ducked and rolled forward. Before Alice could reach for her shortsword, she was met with an uppercut from four different fists. She flew upwards into the air before landing on the ground in a heap. Axle lightly kicked her side. No response. He had knocked her out. He looked at her, and then looked back at Serena.
" Son of a bitch..." he muttered to himself. But then he grinned. He had an idea brewing in his head. He grabbed Alice and placed her over his shoulder before doing the same to Serena.
He turned back towards the treeline and trudged off in the direction of the wall.
" Roy! Roy!"
Roygo was dimly aware of a voice calling him. He slowly opened his eyes, and looked up. His wife was hovering over him, a very concerned look covering her features.
He sat up rubbed his head. The healer took her hands off of him and went to check on someone else. Roygo looked around. The dead guards had been lain side-by-side in a row. Lance and Seymour were leaning against the wall, being tended to by the cleric now.
Cynthia shook him by the shoulders, taking him out of his daze.
" Roygo, what the hell happened?! Where is our daughter?!"
Standing up, Roygo walked over to the hole in the wall and looked outside.
" Roy! Stop ignoring me here! What is going on?"
He turned to her.
" Where's Serena's friend? Did she ever come back?"
" What? I-I'm not sure. The rest of the guards are searching the grounds right now, but no one has told me anything! What happened?" She looked desperately at him.
Roygo pulled his wife in closely and embraced her.
" They took her."
A look of horror dawned on Cynthia's face as she absorbed this information.
He looked down at his wife. " Serena has been kidnapped."
She turned pale and dug her face into his chest for support.
" O, Gods, O, Divines..." She began to mutter a prayer to herself.
" Cynthia, listen to me. Everything's going to be okay, alright? I need you to pull yourself together right now. The last thing she needs is for us to break down. okay?"
She nodded. Pulling away, she took a deep breath, and went to go check on Lance. At this moment, two young faces appeared in the doorway. Cynthia looked over at her younger son, who looked equally pale as he observed the scene.
" Mom? What... what happened?"
" Argus. I-I need you to go to your room right now. There was... um... an accident. We're trying to figure out what happened."
" That's not true." Another voice said, belonging to Vannesa. She walked past Cynthia and into the room. Argus was right behind her.
" Excuse me, young lady?"
Vann turned around. " What you said isn't true. Where's Alice? And Serena?"
" Mom... did something happen to Serena?"
Cynthia was trying to find a way to form an answer when Lance staggered upwards towards his father. She moved to stop him, seeing that he was obviously still in pain. He grasped Roygo's shoulder.
" Dad. Study. Please."
Roygo looked around as everyone was focused on the two of them. He nodded, and turned to address them.
" We'll be right back."
" What happened after I got knocked out?"
" They killed the rest of the guards. Serena's little friend chased down the one that began to run away with her. I had to fight off the other two. I guess they thought I would bleed out, so they didn't kill me right there. They ran away. That's the last thing I remember."
" So then what happened to her if she started chasing him? Where is she?"
Roygo hesitated. " I... I don't know. She hasn't come back yet. Maybe she's still chasing them. Or maybe she..."
He didn't finish that last sentence.
Lance began angrily pacing despite the aching pain in his chest.
" She's probably dead. Fuck. The only way I could see her surviving that encounter is if she... shit, I shouldn't think of something like that."
" Like what? What are you talking about?"
Lance grew uncomfortable.
" Don't quote me on this, but... what if she was in cahoots with them? I don't know if I told you, but she is a criminal. I know that's an awful accusation to make, but we have to think of every possibility here."
Roygo pulled at his beard.
" No, I don't think so. She would've stabbed me in the back when she had the chance. And since they haven't found a body yet..."
" Maybe they took her as well? But that doesn't make any sense, she's not worth anything to us, and she's definitely not the same kind of target Serena is."
Roygo suddenly thought of something.
" Insurance. They must've wanted insurance."
Lance was baffled.
" Think about it, son. Serena acts like a saint when it comes to other people. You really think she'd let them hurt someone she really cared about? She'd do just about whatever they say."
" Goddamnit, you're right. But this is all pointless! None of this actually helps us find out where they're taking her. Or who they're taking her to. Shit!"
" Well, today certainly has been eventful, hasn't it?"
They both whipped around to where Roygo's desk sat in the back of the study. A woman playfully sat with her legs propped up on the desk's surface.
" Who the fuck are you?"
" Oh, the language on this one! He must get it from you, Roygo."
" Dad, who the hell is this?"
She took her feet off the desk and spun around in the chair.
" Yes, Roygo, who am I? Why don't you tell him?"
Lance looked confusedly at his father.
" Erm... Lance, this is... Quintara Lotus."
" You've got to be shitting me."
" Why are you here?" Roygo demanded.
She stopped spinning and leaned forward.
" I think you know exactly why, Roygo. I'm concerned!"
She looked over at Lance and leaned over the desk further.
" Psssst, this is the one that knows, right Roygo?"
" You know you're not whispering."
Roygo sighed. " Yes, this is the one that knows."
She sat up. " Good! Then we can get right down to business. I'm going to tell you something about Serena that I haven't needed to until now."
Roygo looked at her.
" Oh yes. One safety precaution, just in case anything happened to her."
" And that would be?" Roygo prompted her.
" A tracking rune. She doesn't even know about it. It's only set to activate once I make it."
" What the hell?! You kept that hidden from me?"
" As I predicted, you're not reacting positively. But do you have a better plan? You do know that I actually care about her, right? I'm not some psychopath that wants to watch her suffer."
Roygo was silent in thought. He closed his eyes, and sighed.
" Activate it, if you would."
She snapped her fingers a single time.
" Okay. It's done. But you will need some way to actually use it. And since I have things to attend to, I had another idea."
She pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper from her sleeve. Walking over, she landed it to Lance. He unraveled it, revealing a map of the Realms. A small, blue star was etched into the paper, and appeared to move ever so slightly.
Quintara leaned over his shoulder and tapped the star.
" That's her. Follow the star, you find your sister."
She walked over to the bay window behind the desk.
" I think I'll be taking my leave now, gentlemen. Oh, and by the way, can you tell my son out there to wake up? He didn't even bat an eye when I tried to speak to him!"
And with that, she vanished in a flash.
Lance was confused as he rolled up the map again. " Her... son?"
Roygo immediately knew what she was talking about. " Ridge!"
Roygo prodded and poked the dragon. trying to force him to wake up. Lance stood behind him, watching his father have little success.
" Why the hell wont he wake up?"
" I dunno, dad, but whenever Serena's trying to coax him out of a good dream, she usually just says her name. Or says it in his head. Not really sure how that works. But it's worth a shot."
Roygo moved to the side of the dragon's head and leaned into his ear.
Almost like he triggered a switch, the dragon's ears immediately perked up. He slowly opened his eyes and yawned. He slowly looked around, obviously trying to find Serena. When he didn't, he closed his eyes and reached out with his mind. Not getting any response, this immediately sent Ridge into a panic. He fully got up, and began lumbering around the grounds, searching for her. He finally came back to Roygo and Lance, looking obviously distressed.
" She's not here, Ridge. Some bad people took her. Maybe if you weren't sleeping during the whole damn party then you could've helped."
Ridge gave a perplexed look, and then walked around the side of the house to view Serena's bedroom. Seeing the signs of battle sent a shiver down his spine. He once again walked back to Roygo and Lance.
" It's too late to feel sorry. But you can help us find her. We have a map that'll allow us to follow her trail, but you have a mental link, and a good nose to boot. So you should be able to track her on your own, right?"
Ridge snorted in response, and then gave a nod. He stretched out his massive wings, and launched into the air in pursuit of his master. They watched as he took off, and faded into the distance.
" C'mon Lance, let's go get ready. We need to go soon if we're going to catch up to them."
Cynthia sat on a bench in the hallway, chewing her fingernails. It was a nervous habit that she had picked up in her youth, but she hadn't done it in centuries. She heard someone walking towards her, and she looked up to see her husband, a backpack slung over his shoulders.
" Roy? What are you doing?"
He bent down and wrapped his arms around her in a bear-hug. She blushed at this show of affection and didn't want him to release her. They stood there for a while, until he finally pulled away, enough so that they could have a conversation.
" Sweetheart, me and Lance are going to find her. As in right now. We're leaving."
She looked up at him. " You're going to find her? How? How are you going to do that, Roygo?"
" Just... trust me. We have a way. And we're gonna bring her back. I promise."
" You promise?"
" Do I ever break my promises?"
" Yes, all the time!"
" Well I'm not breaking this one."
He planted a kiss on her forehead and walked out of the house. Lance was waiting for him out by the front gate, surveying the map. The only carriage left outside was the family's personal one; all of the guests had been ordered to leave hours earlier.
" Ready, dad?"
" Yeah, let's go."
With that, the two of them hopped into the driver's bench, Roygo taking the reins of the tarandors. Lance would act as their navigator, telling Roygo what route to take. As they began their journey, neither of them were aware of two small shapes, hidden in the midst of their supplies in the back.
In the recesses of a disgusting dungeon, a thief was attempting to escape. Her eyes were locked upwards, concentrating on the bobby pin she held in her hands. She carefully inserted it into the keyhole of her shackle, and began to twist it around.
She had only been doing this for a few moments when she heard the pin snap. She brought it back out of the hole, where she could see that it was indeed broken. She dropped the useless object onto the floor. Tears began to well up in her eyes, and she suppressed a sob. She didn't need to let the jailer see her crying. That would be even more humiliating.
She slumped back against the wall, her hands limply hanging above her. She was completely out of options at this point.
Trying to saw her way out of the barred window with a file hadn't worked. They saw her, and the window was quickly boarded shut while they searched her and the room for more tools.
Trying to bribe her guard hadn't worked, either. He had simply refused, and the very next day she had been put into the set of shackles hanging from her cell wall, losing what little freedom she had in the small room.
Once she had realized that the pin was still in her hair, she had waited for the right opportunity to try and use it. But now that she had broken it, she was at a complete loss at what to do. She had never been in this situation before. Every other job she had done had gone well, or she had at least gotten aware before getting hurt or caught. Never had someone actually managed to subdue her. It hurt her pride, but more importantly, it hurt her confidence. She was scared.
She sat like this for what seemed like hours, until she heard the iron door of the dungeon grind open. She grimaced, knowing that it was probably the jailer, returning either to feed or mock her. It had mostly been the latter the past few days. She saw the light of a lantern, and sure enough, the guard had returned. She set down her lantern and unlocked the door of the cell. She whistled to herself as she walked towards the thief, twirling her key-ring in one hand and pulling something out of her pocket with the other.
Drawing closer, the object in her hand appeared to be a small bread-roll.
" Here you go, thief. Eat up."
She weakly tossed the food in front of the thief, who stretched out her foot to try and bring it closer, but couldn't reach it. The guard laughed at her struggle.
" You wanna eat, half-breed? You gotta make the fucking effort!"
The thief glared back at the guard and bit her lip. She had a smart-aleck reply, but knew that if she responded, the guard would come up with some new way to punish her for her insolence. Smirking, the guard turned around to leave. The thief hung her head and looked down at the ground. Suddenly, she heard a sickening crunch and looked up.
The jailer stood, frozen in the doorway. Her hand was gripping one of the vertical bars of the cell door, when she released it, and fell backwards. She landed on the floor of the cell with a resounding thud, and the thief observed an axe sticking out of her forehead. She was shocked into silence.
The thief looked up, alerted by the sound of loud footsteps outside the cell. Coming into the lamp-light was another person. The thief perked up as a young man started to walk into the cell, but her eyes widened in horror as an extra set of arms unfurled from behind his back, gripping the sides of the door-frame.
She opened her mouth to scream, but quickly found a couple of hands covering it. She emitted some muffled protests, but the goro held a finger up to his lips.
" Ssshhhhhh! Listen, you gotta be quiet. I'm not gonna hurt you, okay? Nod if you understand."
She nodded vigorously.
" Okay. I'm gonna take my hands away. You promise not to scream?"
She nodded again. He hesitantly released his grip, and she looked up at him, still terrified.
" W-who are you?" She stammered out.
" My name is Axle. I'm on a mission here. I heard voices coming this room, and thought that maybe someone I was looking for was here. But I guess I was wrong. Oh well. What's your name?"
" Oh, uh... my name is Alice."
" Alright, cool. So what exactly are you doing down here?"
" I tried to steal a bunch of stuff from the baron. I was halfway through cleaning out the safe in his bedroom when a bunch of guards jumped me. I've been here for at least a week."
" Wow, that really sucks."
They sat there in a moment of awkward silence, while Axle was thinking of something. He smiled, having come to an idea that he liked. He turned around, and grabbed the keys off of the dead guard. He returned to Alice, and squatted down next to her.
" So, you're some kind of thief, right?"
She shifted nervously. " Uh... yes?"
" Good. Then I have a proposal for you."
She looked up at him, confused.
" As you can see," He said as he jangled the keys in front of her face, " I hold the literal keys to your freedom. All you have to do to get these is help me."
" Help you? With what, exactly?"
" Well, you see, I'm not exactly the best at stealth. But I can't just fight every guard that's around here. So that's where you come in."
" Listen, it's real simple. All you have to do is cause a distraction over at the other end of the castle. Hopefully, some or most of the guards will investigate, and once they realize that you escaped, they'll chase you down. That leaves me a window to find and kill my target."
" Um, okay, but what if they... I don't know... catch me!?"
" Don't worry. If you honestly get in danger, come run to me. I can afford to abandon this job. Chances are, my sister can pick it up if I screw up. And I don't exactly have to tell her the truth about why I failed, so there's really no harm done."
Alice thought for a moment. " Well... I guess I can do that. If you promise not to abandon me."
" You realize you could run off at any point, right? I should be the one worrying."
" Well, yeah, but... I promise I wont."
" Is it a deal, then?"
He found the correct key, and inserted it into the shackles. A moment later, Alice stood up, rubbing her wrists. Axle smiled.
" Shall we get started?"
He smashed through the window, soaring through the open air, Alice hanging on for dear life around his neck. As they fell towards the moat, shots rang out as rifle barrels poked out of the broken glass. Axle let out a wild cry of enjoyment as they plummeted towards the water, while Alice screamed in terror.
They hit the surface with the force of a cannonball, and blood began to rise to the top of the water. Neither of them resurfaced. The gunmen reluctantly pulled away and headed for the ground floor.
" Woohoo! That was fucking awesome!" Axle cried as they crawled ashore. Alice was less than excited about their escape.
" Yeah, I love nearing certain death. It's even better when you leap out of a window from three stories up, and into a moat filled with clockodiles."
" Oh, come on. It was exciting!"
" Yeah, sure." She glanced back at the castle. " Maybe we should get moving?"
" What? Oh, yeah, sure."
They retreated through the forest, trying to find their way to the nearest road. As they traversed the underbrush, Alice noticed several dark stains on Axle's side illuminated by the moonlight. She grabbed his shoulder and brought their progress to a halt.
" Hey, you're hurt. You know that, right?"
He shrugged. " Yeah, but it doesn't really matter. I have a pretty high pain tolerance."
" Okay... but not being able to feel pain isn't going to help you if a bullet's lodged in your chest."
He thought for a moment. " Oh, I guess you're right."
They went a bit further ahead, following a small river until they came to the bottom of a ridge overlooking it. They decided to camp beneath this ridge. After a few minutes, they had started a small campfire. Alice walked over to Axle, who was sitting against a rock.
" Alright, take your shirt off."
" Don't you think it's a bit early in our relationship for that?"
Alice grew crimson red. " Not like that, you ass! Let me see your wound!"
Axle laughed as he removed his tunic. Annoyed, Alice bent down to look at his flank and saw more than what she expected. Two definite bullet holes, numerous slashes all around his chest, and part of an arrow still sticking out of his side.
" Holy crap, you really must not realize how much you're hurt."
He shrugged again. Some blood oozed out of the numerous wounds.
" How the hell do you not feel any of this?"
" My parents told me that I have something called 'Ironskin.' I did some research on it, and it's a pretty amazing ability. But for some reason a lot of my body isn't covered by it. It's weird."
" Alright, I'll do what I can. Do you have any medical supplies in your pack?"
He scratched his chin. " I might have a rejuv' potion or something. Not sure about anything else. I don't usually keep that kinda stuff since I never use them."
She dug around in his backpack, looking through a surprising amount of camping gear, only to come up with a roll of gauze and a half-full bottle of the red potion. She looked over at her own small satchel, which they had taken back in their escape. She went over to it, and removed a sewing needle and a bunch of thread.
" What, are you gonna stitch me back together with that?" Axle asked as she came back over.
" Would you rather bleed out?"
" Well, not particularly."
" That's what I thought. Now here, drink everything left in this." She said as she thrust the bottle towards him. He downed it in one gulp and waited for her to begin.
Alice began with the arrow shaft. She delicately tugged on it, before realizing that Axle wouldn't feel anything if she ripped it out. Grabbing it with both hands, she yanked the broken arrow out, and a spurt of blood splashed onto her face.
" Oh, gross!" She said as she wiped her face off. She shuddered before going back to work.
The rejuvination potion had done a bit of work for her, as she saw some of the wounds close up a bit. She didn't feel the need to be cautious or worry about Axle feeling pain or going into shock, so she methodically went about stitching up the arrow wound. While she was starting on the cuts, Axle decided to antagonize her.
" So, are you a tailor on the side or somethin'? Kinda weird to carry around the needle and thread everywhere you go."
" I only bought it because I ripped my shirt a few weeks ago."
" Mmhmm. Cool. Y'know, I bet the baron wishes he had a nurse like you right about now."
" You cut off his head."
" That's the joke, sweetheart. I think it might've gone over your head a bit."
Alice sighed and finished her stitching. The only things left now were the bullets, and then she had to bandage everything. The bullets were the biggest problem. The only tool she had to remove them was one of the knives that Axle had. She hit a lucky break when she looked around at Axle's other side and saw an exit hole for each bullet. She let out a breath of relief, now that she wouldn't have to go digging around inside of him to pull them out.
Axle slipped his shirt back on, bandages now wrapped around his torso. Alice went to wash her hands in the river. When Alice came back to the fire, he was digging around in his backpack.
" What are you looking for?" She asked, as she was genuinely curious.
" I'm looking for my damn pot! I know I had it here somewhere... ah, there it is!"
He triumphantly held up a gleaming silver pot. He juggled it around in his hands.
" So... you plannin' on making something?"
" You're damn right I am! First, because I'm hungry, and second, to repay you for all this."
" This is not exactly what I'd call repayment."
" Oh, shut up, I saw you pick up his crown when we were running away."
Alice quickly put her hand over her satchel, patting it for reassurance that the object was still there.
" Yeah, that's what I thought. Now let me make my damn soup."
" You're getting so excited... over soup?"
" You've obviously never had stone soup before."
" Uh... I guess not?"
" Well then, my friend," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. " let me take you on a culinary adventure. Trust me, you'll probably enjoy it."
Alice sighed. " Fuck it, make me some soup!"
" This is amazing!" Alice exclaimed as she gulped down another bowl. She looked over at Axle.
" What the heck is in this that makes it so good?"
He grinned, and pulled a rock out of his backpack.
" Wait, hold on, you actually used a stone to make this?"
" Well, it's a bit more complicated than that."
" How so?"
" Why don't you see for yourself?" He said, and tossed her the stone.
Alice examined it in her hands. It was almost perfectly spherical, but still rough all around. She looked up at him, unsure of what to do.
" Crack it open, like an egg."
Alice hesitantly smashed the stone against the side of the pot. A large crack formed, and she proceeded to tear off one-half of the rock. Inside was the clearest liquid that she had ever seen. She could only tell that it was there because of the disturbances she had made on the surface when she moved it.
" Whoa... what is this?"
" It's water. Some of the purest mountain spring-water that you can find. A lot of dwarves like using these things as canteens, but I like to use them for cooking. It just makes things better than if I use regular water. So, combine it with some chicken broth? Bam, some amazing soup."
Alice took a cautious sip of the water. She almost spit it out because she hadn't expected it to taste so good. She swallowed, and licked her lips.
" I told you it'd be an adventure."
Alice lied down on the ground, and attempted to get some sleep. It was difficult, because she couldn't get the taste of the water out of her mouth or mind. Axle slept curled up against the rock he had originally leaned against. While Alice was busy undoing her cloak to use as a blanket, she heard Axle begin to snore. Evidently, he was already asleep. She looked over at his backpack. When she had rummaged around in it, there had been numerous valuables that she hadn't mentioned seeing.
She licked her lips again, this time in greed. She could take all of it, and adding them to the amount that she'd get for the crown, make quite a pretty penny. She silently got up, in the manner of a true thief, and crept towards the pack. Undoing the strap with one finger, she quietly pushed the top flap over and peered inside. She reached her hand into the bag, but something made her stop. She looked back over at Axle, who was peacefully sleeping with a smile on his face. She sadly looked back into the bag.
Alice pulled the flap back over and redid the strap. She walked back to her place by the fire and lied down again. Sighing, she went to sleep.
Axle woke up to find Alice putting out the fire. She had her satchel on, and looked prepared to travel.
" Hey, where are you going?"
She looked up, surprised to see him awake.
" Oh.. I... uh... thought I'd get out of your hair. I'm sure you don't need me around for whatever you do next. Plus, I don't really wanna be around here when the wanted posters start going up."
" Oh. That's understandable, sorta. So I guess that means... goodbye?"
She readjusted her satchel.
" Yeah, I guess it does."
She smiled, and began to walk away. She followed the river until she reached a bridge, not looking back a single time. When she got to this bridge, she observed a crossroad on the other side. She quickly crossed, and went to look at the direction sign on the corner. A large wooden arrow pointing down the road to her right led to a town called Redwood. She decided to take this route. It was only at this point that she looked back in the direction she came from.
She shook her head, and started walking.
The innkeeper watched as a dirty young woman stumbled through his door. She made her way to the bar, and sat down in front of him. She wearily looked up at him.
" Hi there. Can I get a glass of water?"
He narrowed his eyes at her. " Can I have some proof that you can pay me first? No offense, but you look like a street rat."
" Oh, why of course I can... uh..." She groaned. " Okay buddy, I'll level with you. I don't have any money. I've been on the road all day. My uh... my caravan got sacked by bandits and they stole all my money and supplies."
" Mmhmm. Then why didn't they take that bag you're wearing?"
" Becuase... uh..."
Alice didn't need to come up with another lie, because at that moment a young man sat down next to her, a hood concealing most of his face.
" I'll have some whiskey; Firebrand if you have any. And if you have a kitchen, can you get someone to whip us up two bowls of stew?"
" Yes, us. And get the poor girl some water."
He counted out about a hundred gold and slid it over to the man behind the counter, who went into the back room to prepare everything. Alice looked over at the man, and noticed a bulge on his back under the cloak he wore.
" Axle, take the hood off."
He used two arms to do this, allowing Alice to catch a glimpse of the pair folded behind his back. He noticed her looking.
" Yeah, I know what you're thinking, and it's because a lot of establishments don't exactly like goros coming in. Some bad stereotypes. I mean, most of them are justified, but still bad."
" No, that's actually not what I was thinking. I was more thinking something like ' Why did you follow me?' That seems like a more important question right now."
The innkeeper returned with their food and drinks, before tending to someone further down.
" Well," Axle began. " At first I realized that you didn't really have any food or money, and I felt pretty bad about just stranding you out here in the boonies. And besides that... I don't know. I'm usually not this charitable. To anyone. There's just... something about you that I like."
" I'm honored."
" Alright, y'know, that's cool, just shit all over everything I tell you while you're at it."
She looked up at him, to see that he had actually smiled at that quip, and she smiled back. She looked over at the bottle he had ordered, which was still half full.
" You gonna offer me any of that?"
" Are you a drinker?"
He passed her the bottle and watched as she took a swig. Alice almost immediately felt like vomiting but was able to hold back her bile.
" Oh my gods, that tasted like literal death." She croaked out as she grasped for her glass of water.
" Yeah, that's kinda why I didn't offer you any. I figured you couldn't handle your alcohol."
" Can't handle my- I'll show you who can't handle their alcohol!" Alice declared, angrily.
" Do you really want to get in a drinking contest with me?"
" Are you scared you'll lose?" She said to him, cockily.
" You little... Hey barkeep!" He said, quickly turning to the man. " We're gonna need a few more bottles of this. and a couple shot glasses. Pronto!"
He turned back to Alice.
" I am gonna fuck. You. Up. Little girl."
Alice woke up, not knowing where she was. She could smell sweat and body odor all around her. She shakily sat up, clutching her head. It hurt like hell. She opened her eyes and realized that she was in a bed. She scratched the back of her head, and heard a noise coming from beside her. Turning, she saw Axle laying next to her, drooling into a pillow. This would've been humorous if she hadn't thought about the fact that they had been in a bed together.
She yelped and quickly scrambled out of the bed, where she came to another important realization: she was completely nude.
Quickly covering her privates with her hands, Alice looked all around the room to find her clothes. She finally saw them, in a trail on the floor leading to the bed.
" Oh dear lord, what did we do?"
Her talking roused Axle, who stirred in the bed. He rubbed his eyes and looked around, stopping at Alice. She grew crimson red as he gazed upon her naked body. He lifted up the covers and peered underneath, before coming back up and looking at Alice again.
" I think we did it last night."
She turned around and quickly started picking up her pants. Axle started to get out of the bed.
" Shut up and turn around while I get dressed!"
She grabbed her shirt and put it on as fast as possible.
Again, Axle tried to initiate a conversation.
" Alice, we-"
" Just be quiet, okay!?"
" What the hell is wrong with you right now? You need to calm down!"
She turned to him, having gotten dressed. Axle had turned around at some point and put some pants on himself, and now stood, arms crossed.
" Calm down? I just had drunk sex with a complete stranger! Oooooh, why did I have to say that last night!" Referring to her challenge from beforehand.
" Alice, it's okay. Just calm down. We got really drunk, we probably did some other stupid stuff, and then we did it. Shit happens. We can't change that now. Should we have drank as much as we did? Probably not, but oh well. At least neither of us did anything that got us hurt."
" I... I guess you're right."
She sat down on the edge of the bed. Axle came and sat beside her, putting an arm around her shoulder.
" How about I go pay the innkeeper and get him to unlock the bathhouse for you? You want me to do that and you can relax while I figure out what else we did last night?"
Alice nodded quietly.
" Okay, I'll go get him."
A little while later, Alice was relaxing in the warm tub. She had sunk down to where only the upper half of her face was sticking out of the water, and she was trying to forget the events of the previous night. She sighed to herself, and leaned back against the edge of the wooden tub. She closed her eyes, trying to relieve the killer headache that the hangover had brought on.
Suddenly, she heard the door quickly open, and something splashed down into the water across from her. Or rather, someone. She opened her eyes and saw Axle, frantically grabbing a rough bar of soap and a scrub-brush off of a shelf above them.
" What the hell do you think you're doing!?"
He didn't look at up her as he started to clean himself.
" Bathe fast, we gotta get out of here."
" What are you talking about?"
" Apparently, we totally wrecked the bar last night. Combine that damage, all the food and whiskey we ordered, the room we rented, and the key to this place, and I don't have enough money to pay for it all."
" So we're running?"
" Do you have a better plan?"
" Well, if we're ditching town, we might as well procure some supplies, am I right?"
Axle sighed. " Once a thief, always a thief, eh?"
" Hey, stop! Thief! Somebody help!"
Alice ran past the old man and onto the street, a sack slung over her shoulder. It bustled with stolen goods. She ran as fast as she could down to the next road, turning around once to see a couple of the town guard chasing after her. After she turned the corner, she saw Axle waiting there, as they had planned. He hopped aboard the wagon he had stolen and she tossed him the bag. He quickly loaded it and jumped up to the driver's seat, Alice leaping into the back as he did so.
In this fluid series of events, it only took them maybe half a minute to get moving. The wheels kicked up a dust cloud behind them as the groundbolds understood to start running up front, causing a coughing fit among the guards who had been inches behind them. Alice raised her middle finger in a salute to them as they sped away. She moved up to the driver's seat to sit next to Axle. He looked over to see her beaming.
" Well, someone's in a better mood."
" I... I don't know what it is, but a good heist always makes me feel better. And that was pretty fun, too. If those guys had lunged, they probably could've grabbed me. Idiots! Incompetent guards are always fun to mess with."
" Whatever floats your boat."
They were silent for a few minutes before Axle spoke again.
" So... I guess this means I should drop you off at the next town over."
" Actually, I think I'd rather stick with you for a while, now."
" What made you change your mind?"
" I'm... not really sure. I just kinda have a feeling that I should do this for a while. Maybe something good will come out of it. I've never really had a partner in crime before."
" Works for me."
She grinned as they barreled down the road, and off into the distance.
Serena woke up, not knowing where she was. The only thing she did know was that she was laying on a wooden floor, in front of a fireplace. She groaned, and tried to get up, only to realize that she couldn't. She looked down at her body to see an intricate pattern of ropes looped around her, tying her upper legs to her torso. She tried moving her arms, feeling that they too were restrained to her chest. After this, she attempted to Blink out of her bonds, only to be met with the electrifying shock that she had completely forgotten about in her previous attempts.
She screamed in agony and tried to arch her body, but was held in place as she writhed. In this spasm of movement, she managed to turn herself away from the fireplace, towards the center of the room. She heaved in air as she recovered from the shock, and slowly opened her eyes again to look around at her environment. Serena saw something hanging off of the floor in front of her, and bringing her attention upwards, she realized that it was Alice's body.
She was hung up by her hands; a thick rope attaching them to a rafter near the roof. Serena stared in disbelief, not knowing why Alice was here with her.
" Alice!" She called out, to no reply.
" Alice, can you hear me? Alice!" She desperately tried to rouse a response out of her friend.
" She can't hear you, genius. She's still unconscious."
Serena looked around in a panic, trying to find the source of the voice. Suddenly, the male goro walked into her view from somewhere behind her. She glared daggers at him, but he ignored her and walked towards Alice's dangling body. He put one of his hands on her chin and turned her face to inspect it.
" Hey, get your dirty hands off of her, you creep! Don't touch her!" Serena yelled at him.
" Hm? I'm sorry, did you say something? I'm just trying to make sure that I didn't bruise Alice's pretty face too much. It's one of her only redeeming qualities, if I'm being honest."
Growing frustrated, Serena resolved to struggling on the floor. There wasn't much else that she really could do. Axle watched in amusement before getting bored rather quickly. He sighed.
" Gods, you're pretty pathetic!"
Feeling a sense of pity, he went over and pulled her into an upright position, seating her on her bum and at least getting her off of the floor. He sat down in an armchair nearby and shook his head.
" You know, I really don't get what Alice sees in you." He scratched his chin, thinking. " Hmm... maybe a long-con? But that seems like awfully long of a con, even for her..."
" Why are you talking like that?" Serena interrupted his monologue.
" Like what?"
" Like... like you know Alice. You don't know a single thing about her! You have no idea what she's like, so stop talking about her like she's your best buddy or something!"
He stared at her, before cracking a smile, and then laughing. quite literally performing a quadruple knee-slap in the process. Serena's patience was tested as she waited for a response.
Finally, he wiped a tear from his eye and looked up at her, obviously having been humored.
" Sweetheart, I've been inside Alice more times than the years you've been alive. I probably know her better than any other person alive. And as a matter of fact, we actually were pretty much 'best buddies' as far as I'm concerned."
Serena was dumbfounded.
" Wh... what?"
" You heard me, shit-lips, but I'll explain it better this time. Me and Alice used to be real tight a couple of years ago. We were partners in crime, and for a little while, partners in passion. But I digress. We did a lot together, had a lot of good times, a couple bad times. It was a good run. There was just one point, though, that kinda... spoiled the whole thing."
He was silent for a moment.
" Anyways, I don't have to tell you about that. You can ask Alice when she wakes up. Which hopefully will be soon. Because having her awake makes this plan a lot easier."
He put very specific emphasis in the latter part of that statement.
" Umm... what exactly do you mean by that?"
He nodded over at Alice's body.
" Well, you see, Alice was the only person who managed to follow me outside, and she caught up with me as well. Of course, she couldn't really compete with my skill, so I knocked her out. And at that point, I was in a dilemma. If I leave her there, she probably would've come after us when she woke up, which just puts her in way more danger considering the company I'm keeping. And there's the chance that she wouldn't come after us, which means I'd probably be missing out on my one chance to reconnect with her."
He paused so that she take this in before continuing.
" And on the other hand, if I bring her with me, she'll still probably be in danger because she's not exactly essential to our mission. But, I came up with an idea for that problem. You see, you're probably new to the whole hostage-thing, but insurance is a hell of a tool to have at your disposal. And that's exactly what Alice is. Insurance, to make sure you comply with everything we say."
" But... you made it sound like you cared about her. So why would you be willing to kill her?"
" Oh, shit, not me, of course. I could never do that. But you know exactly who would that's gonna be meeting us here soon. A certain, masked assassin, if you would? Hell, my sister'd probably do it as well."
Serena's eyes widened in terror. She wholeheartedly believed that Ghostblade would murder Alice without a second thought.
" Ah, that's the response I wanted. So, if you care about Alice, you'll prove to my companions that she's a valuable tool. It's already gonna be hard enough to convince them that this is a good idea. And it sounds kind of scummy, but it really is a win-win for both of us. Alice gets to live, which is really good for both of us, and I get to interact with her more, which is good for me."
Serena stared at him.
" That's the dumbest plan I've ever heard! You're a psychopath!"
" Yeah, I probably am. You realize who you hang out with, right? Alice is a thief, an arsonist, a murderer, a kidnapper, a con-artist, etc. She's not exactly as pure as snow herself."
Just then, they both heard an audible groan coming from Alice.
" Well, speak of the devil."
Alice awoke with a groan, slowly opening her eyes. She blinked several times, before looking around. The first thing she saw was a familiar face, wearing a shit-eating grin.
" Oh, fucking great..." She groaned.
" What, Alice? Are you not happy to see me?"
" Maybe if the scenario was different. But you've kinda kidnapped me. Not exactly the way I wanted to be reunited, after all this time."
" Oh, come on! Don't act like this is your first time. Don't you remember that slave auction?"
" Oh, which one: the one where I was hung up inside a barn the whole time or the one where I was up on stage? Great plan on both of those, by the way. It really went smoothly on my end."
" Did we make a profit stealing from those asswipes?"
She begrudgingly sighed. " Yeah, we did."
" Um... if I may interject here?" said a concerned Serena.
Axle twisted Alice around so that she could see the other girl.
" So... this reunion is... ehm... nice and all, but there's still the issue of the whole fact that WE HAVE BEEN KIDNAPPED, just in case you forgot, Alice!"
" Oh, yeah, right." She turned her head to Axle. " So what's the big idea, anyway? What exactly is going on here?"
Axle triumphantly walked over to Serena and patted her head.
" Well you see, this little gal is pretty much about to make my career. After we complete this job, each of us are getting 250 grand, each. On top of the stuff we were paid just to take the job in the first place, me and my sis' can pretty much comfortably retire after this. We probably wont though. But we'll be able to afford a shit ton of stuff!"
Serena angrily snapped at him, and he withdrew to go sit in the armchair he had rested in earlier. Alice was slowly rotating in her binds, not being able to do much about it. She was thinking. She came back to reality and twisted and kicked to turn herself towards Axle.
" Y'know, I just thought of something, Ax'. You could make your fortune off of turning Serena in to whatever weirdo wanted her, or..."
" Or what?"
" Well, I mean, I'm just saying that a ransom shouldn't be excluded as an idea. Trust me, her family totally cares about her. They'd probably pay anything to get her back. Just think about it. I mean, you could totally just cut that assassin guy out of the deal. You and your sister can split it 50-50. Whadda ya say? Sound like a good idea?"
She smiled and seductively blinked at him.
" Unfortunately, Alice, I am neither stupid nor falling for your succubus ways anymore. If I was, we'd already be halfway back to her house together. I'm a bit more level-headed than that now."
She shrugged as much as her position would allow it.
" It was worth a shot, I guess. Also, can you at least let me be a prisoner on the ground? You're cutting off my fucking circulation up here."
" I guess I can do that. I'll just have to go get some more rope in a minute."
He got up and went over into an area of the building where neither of the girls could see. He came back with a step-ladder, that he had apparently used to get Alice to her spot in the first place. She couldn't help but smirk as he climbed it and still awkwardly reached for the rafters to untie the knots there.
Taking her opportunity, Alice quickly and suddenly pulled Axle off of the ladder with her legs, swinging them upwards and clamping them around his neck. The two struggled in mid-air while Serena sat and cheered on Alice. After this heated struggle, Axle managed to break free from her grasp, and landed on the floor, where she resoundingly kicked him in the back of the head. Axle stumbled away, obviously a bit dazed. Alice pulled herself upwards with all of her strength, until she grabbed hold of the rafter itself, and pulled herself over it, letting the ropes attached to her wrists go limp. She brought her hands back and reached down her shirt and into her bra, surprised to actually find a switchblade still hidden there.
As Axle groggily got up, Alice cut away at the ropes binding her hands. After a few moments, she was free, and now held the 4-inch blade in front of her after falling back down to the ground. Axle turned around.
" Son of a bitch, you've gotten a lot better than I thought you would!"
" It helps when you don't search a girl's underwear for weapons."
" Yeah, I'll remember that next time I see you."
Serena, had been idly waiting for Alice to kick Axle's ass, suddenly remembered that she had a hidden weapon of her own. She shuffled her legs around a bit, and felt the leathery sheathe of her dagger near her ankle. It gave her a bit more faith that they could escape. In the middle of her self-reassurance, Axle charged.
Alice sidestepped him, nimbly leaping over the armchair. He turned around and faced her.
" Listen, Alice. I don't want to have to break all of your limbs, but I will if I have to. And if the other two get back while we're in the middle of fighting? They'll kill you. So just give up, because, like I fucking said earlier, you can't beat me. You just got the drop on me."
Alice gripped her pocket-knife, which seemed insignificantly small at the moment. She looked over at Serena, who was mouthing the words: " Fuck no."
" Go to hell, Axle."
" So that's the way you wanna do it?"
" Yeah. Gimme your best shot, shit-for-brains!"
" In hindsight, you probably should've realized how much of a bad idea that was."
A loud yelp was the only response given as Axle tightened the final rope. He pulled it especially tight, causing Alice to let out a string of unintelligible profanity from underneath her new gag. He sat her down next to Serena, them now both being in the same predicament. Alice furiously struggled, while Serena sat next to her and tried to offer encouragement, having pretty much exhausted herself already.
" Alright, girls, I'm gonna go check on some things while I wait for the others to arrive. Sit tight."
" MMFFH MMM MMFHHHRFMMF!"
" Right back at'cha, Alice."
He walked over and exited the building. The girls heard the click of a key turning in place. Serena sighed, and Alice grunted, but soon they had renewed their effort to escape.
" What in the fuck... do you wanna explain to me who this is?" Ghostblade said, turning to Axle with an obviously annoyed look on his face.
Axle held up his hands.
" Alright, just hear me out on this one."
He brought Ghostblade aside and whispered his plan into his ear. The other goro was looking at Alice, deep in thought, obviously trying to remember something. Alice was looking at the floor from between her knees, desperately trying not to be recognized by her. The sister shrugged, crossing her arms and waiting for her brother to be done.
"... And ya see, it's that simple!" Axle excitedly proclaimed.
Ghostblade was silent for a moment, trying to comprehend what entity had possessed Axle to fuck up their plan and add another variable to it.
" Axle," He started. " I did not buy a small hill's worth of raw meat and drug a fucking dragon with it to be cheated out of my money because you thought this would be a good idea."
" But it was a good idea."
Ghostblade rubbed his temple.
" You know what? Fine, whatever. We don't have time to get rid of her or dispose of the body. But if anything goes wrong, it's your fault, and you're gonna regret it if something goes wrong."
Ghostblade gritted his teeth beneath his mask and walked over to Serena, who warily eyed him as he approached. Alice looked up just enough to see him out of the corner of her eye. Ghostblade crouched down and silently looked back and forth between the two of them.
Suddenly, he grabbed Alice by her ponytail and yanked it upwards, causing her to emit a yelp. In a flash, he brought out a dagger and held it to her throat, looking over at Serena, with an eyebrow raised.
" You want me to kill her?"
" What?! No, no!"
" Well then, you're gonna do everything I say. That'll make things a lot smoother for the both of us. You understand me?"
" Yes, yes, just don't hurt her!"
" Alright, good." He let go of Alice and let her head drop. Visibly shaken, she breathed heavily through the cloth over her mouth.
" There's one more thing we have to do before we leave. Hold her down."
The goros nodded and moved towards Serena. She had no idea what they had in mind, but she knew that she didn't want it to happen. The duo grabbed Serena and held her in place. They held her long hair up and exposed the back of her neck. Ghostblade came up behind them, holding a scroll in his hands. Serena struggled to see what was happening behind her, but the twins held her face against her knees.
Ghostblade crushed the scroll, and a dark, red aura enveloped his hands. Reaching out, he leaned forward and grabbed Serena's throat, as if to strangle her, but he did not apply any pressure.
As soon as his hands touched her skin, Serena felt a sensation of pain so strong that it felt like she was being boiled alive. So painful that she thought her skin was being melted off. She screamed and wailed in agony, until, after what felt like an eternity, Ghostblade withdrew his hands. Steam rose from the back of Serena's neck as she heaved in air, trying to recover from the horrifying experience. The goros released their grip, and she fell sideways onto the floor, still gasping.
Ghostblade snapped his fingers and Axle brought him a rolled up parchment. He unfurled it, revealing a common map of the Realms. Looking closely, a small, red skull appeared on the map in the middle of a forest. He bent down to make sure that this symbol matched the one on Serena's neck. He smiled to himself when he saw the tracking rune etched into her skin, not noticing the faint blue outline of another rune on the other side of her neck.
" Well, I think we're about done here."
Serena looked up at him from the floor and glared with more hatred than she had ever mustered in her life. He chuckled at her, before uttering a line that confused her.
" Alright, get her untied."
" Wait, what? You're... letting me go?"
He stared at her coldly. " Don't be a fucking idiot. It's just that we don't have to worry about you running away now. Besides, if you try to, we'll definitely kill your little friend. And you don't want that happening, right?"
He patted her on the cheek, hard.
" Good choice."
Serena nervously approached the wagon, Ghostblade behind her. The sister was already sitting in the back, next to Alice, who had been placed on her side on the floor. Axle was up front at the reigns.
" Hurry up and get in." He prodded her in the back with his knife.
" Alright, I'm going!"
She climbed in and sat down opposite the sister, Ghostblade taking up a position by the open rear. As the wagon slowly gained speed, Serena looked down at Alice, and the two of them locked eyes.
" I promise, I'll find a way to get us out of this." Serena thought, hoping that Alice understood.
Alice silently nodded, reading her expression.
Serena turned to Ghostblade.
" Where are you taking us?"
He slowly turned his head, a wicked look brewing in his eyes.
" Don't you worry, sweetheart. You'll find out soon enough."
Alright guys, I've got several different paths that can be taken here on out. From now on, at certain junctions, there will a strawpoll to decide which path our characters will take, or what events will happen. These events will usually not be major, but there is a chance that they could be.
I've done this because I've had several thoughts on how to handle this next part of the story, but didn't think I could cram in all of them because a lot of them are very similar in structure. So, letting you guys decide a bit is a fun way to include some old-god fuckery.
That being out of the way, our first poll is deciding which of the two stories you'd like to hear first.
https://strawpoll.com/hw2prxfz [CLOSED AT 8:7]
The Chase will follow Roygo and Lance, a week after the kidnapping and the beginning of their desperate journey to catch up with the mercenaries. Several characters have snuck along with them, and a new one will join them on their quest.
The Enemy Within reveals more about the Elven Council's dealing with the situation. No further spoilers.
I'll check the poll in a few days or this weekend, to give me time to brainstorm. And midterms. Those suck. And I have to do them.
Keep in mind that this vote is only about which story will be written first. I will still be writing both stories.*
EDIT: Also now is a great time for questions/comments if anyone has any.
Alright wow I just lost about 3 days worth of writing because I fucked up a copy/paste, that's fucking great. Fantastic. Part is coming out later than expected, sorry.
The carriage barreled through the mud, its wheels and the beasts pulling it barely able to keep their traction on the slick road. The howling rain buffeted both the vehicle and the two tarandors pulling it, doing even more harm to already exhausted creatures. Even though they had both been bred and raised to endure long distances, the pace at which Roygo drove them was practically killing them. The rain also buffeted the two inhabitants of the driver's seat, although one of them wasn't exactly paying attention to the weather.
Lance awoke when the wind whipped a torrent of water into the inner folds of his poncho. He sputtered and coughed, sitting up with a start and shaking his head. Frustrated, he looked over at his father under the dim light of the magical lantern that hung above them.
" Goddamnit, why are we driving right now? I can barely see the road in front of us; there's no way this is doing any good. We need to stop and get our bearings somewhere. Right, dad?"
Roygo didn't immediately respond to this, so Lance leaned in closer to him. He noticed deep, dark bags underneath his father's eyes, which hadn't blinked or moved in the entire time he had been talking. It was almost like he was in a trance.
Lance shook him awake.
" Dad! Hey, dad, wake up!"
Roygo suddenly blinked, and shaking his head, came back to reality.
" Oooh... my head... How long have I been out for?"
" Dad... you haven't been 'out' at all. In fact, I don't remember the last time I saw you sleep. You seriously need to get some rest."
He shook his head.
" No, we can't stop, Lance. Not now. We were closing in on them the last we checked the map. I'm not losing our progress after all this time."
" Dad, I think the last time we checked was three days ago. This damned storm wont let up, and I don't exactly want to damage the map by bringing it out right now! We have to find somewhere. You're gonna kill yourself if you keep this up, and you're no use to Serena in this state. Plus, the tarandors are probably gonna collapse from exhaustion if they don't get some rest soon, and then we're really shit out of luck."
Roygo begrudgingly muttered something, but then finally agreed to find a place to rest.
Lance walked through the inn's door, glad to finally be out of the rain. He set his poncho on a coat rack and walked over to the counter. Nobody was presently there, so he rang the small bell on the counter to get someone's attention. After several minutes of no one answering his beckon, he became bored and began looking around the room. Casting his eyes upon an old grandfather clock, he realized that it was 3 o'clock in the morning. No one would be manning the front desk during the witching hour. Sighing, he looked over at one of the two side doors adjacent to the front room. Poking his head in, one of them led to a dining area with an open bar. He shrugged to himself, and headed over to it.
He was surprised to see that a grizzly old kobold was still working the bar, despite Lance apparently being the only patron there. He walked over to Lance with a limp and leaned on the counter.
" What can I get for ya, sonny?"
" Just beer; and some bread if you have any left over from today."
He nodded and went to go fetch a glass from the shelves behind him. Lance rubbed his eyes and took out the map, unfolding it across the counter. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the star hadn't moved from the spot it had occupied several days earlier. Either the bastards had reached their destination, or they had somehow gotten stopped along the way. In any case, it meant that they could probably catch up to them if they didn't move any more.
Somebody next to Lance whistled.
" Looks like you're tracking somethin', eh, big guy?"
Lance turned, not wanting to deal with anyone at the moment. He didn't see anyone sitting next to him, so he looked forwards again, where a gnome was crouching next to the map on the counter-top. Lance almost jumped out of his seat in surprise, but regained his composure immediately and snatched the map up, curling it back up in his hands.
" Hey, what's the big idea? A man can't admire a fine piece of cartography?" He said with a cocky grin.
" Listen, pal, I'm not in the mood right now to deal with this shit. Maybe you can bother someone else."
He got up to leave, not even caring about the things he ordered. The gnome shrugged.
" Okay, but I'm just saying: You can't keep headin' north."
Lance stopped and turned his head towards the gnome, who was running a hand through his mane of white hair.
" What did you just say?"
" Why don't you come back over and get that map back out so I can explain."
Lance obliged, sitting back down at the bar and showing him the map. The gnome leaned over it, tapping a river.
" See these waterways?"
" yeah. What's the problem?"
" The problem is that we are right here..." He said, tapping a town just below the river. He looked up at Lance.
" Which is just outside of the flood zone."
" Flood zone?!" He exclaimed, suddenly sitting up and paying attention.
" Yes. You see, this whole riverbed..." He started, circling a large area with his finger. " Tends to flood around this time of year. It's a pretty nasty flood season, if I do say so myself. And I do say so, because I lost a damn bounty to it because I forgot about it! My target's probably halfway to New Porc City right about now because of my incompetence. Kinda why I'm hangin' out here."
" So... What are you saying?"
" I'm saying that if you want to get to whatever you're chasing, you can't keep following the road north. If you hadn't stopped in this town, you probably would've barreled straight into the water and gotten yourself killed. You'll have to go back west a little ways and find a ferry across. It'll probably take a while to hire one since loads of people need to cross, but it's safe."
" What if I don't take a ferry?"
The gnome frowned.
" Well then it'd probably take you at least a week to go downstream enough to find safe crossing. Definitely not worth the time."
" Fucking great," Lance muttered, shaking his head and gathering up the map. He got up and headed towards the door. As he walked towards the front door, the gnome quickly ran ahead of him and halted him.
" Listen, kid, is there anything else you might need? Maybe some supplies or something?"
Lance narrowed his eyes.
" Why are you being so helpful to me?"
" Because you look like whatever you're chasing really matters to you."
Lance was quiet for a moment. He looked down at the gnome.
" Did you happen to rent a room for the night?"
Lance led Roygo into the bedroom, where he layed his father down in one of the twin beds. Lance took the other one, the gnome, who finally introduced himself as Barnaby Sr. ( giving no last name) already asleep in the room's comfy armchair.
The trio drifted off into a peaceful slumber, this new team only just beginning.
" I still wanna see about the ferry in this town, even if it closed down like you told us." Lance said as the trio entered the stables, intent on finding a faster way to Serena.
Barnaby shook his head.
" I don't know why you don't listen. I already told you the same thing they told me when I went there. The ferryman isn't there right now."
Roygo turned to the both of them while he was climbing into the driver's seat.
" Well, did they actually give you a reason for that?"
" No... they didn't. Guess I was too tired to think about it. Maybe going back down there is a good idea after all."
Lance climbed into the seat next to his father.
" Hey, Barnaby, can you do me a favor and check on our supplies in the back? I just wanna make sure nothing got stolen last night; we should have five crates back there."
He nodded, and strolled over to the open back. Seeing as it wasn't exactly built for gnome-access, he had to perform an impressive jump for someone of his stature to actually get inside. Nearing the back, he thought he saw movement in the dark and instantly yelled for his companions before reaching for the daggers on his belt.
Lance and Roygo instantly came running, each of them going down opposite sides of the carriage to aid Barnaby. Lance heard shouting, and when he skidded to a halt to look into the back, something hit him square in the chest like a ragdoll as it was thrown out of the carriage. He fell back onto the straw-strewn floor of the stable, with someone now sitting on his chest. He opened his eyes, and realized that he was looking at his own brother.
" What the hell!?" He exclaimed as Argus got off of him and scrambled to his feet. Lance looked over at his father, who was helping up a young girl that he recognized as the same one Alice had brought to the party.
Barnaby walked to the edge of the carriage, arms crossed.
" Looks like we had some stowaways. Not really sure how we should deal with 'em."
Roygo sighed, shaking his head.
" They're not stowaways. This one's my son, and that's one of my daughter's acquaintances."
Barnaby raised an eyebrow, but said nothing else about the matter. Argus turned to Vann.
" You said they wouldn't find us!"
" No, I said that you believed that they wouldn't find us. There is a difference."
Argus looked back at his father, who looked more tired than angry.
" Argus... what did you think you were accomplishing by coming along with us? I thought we made it very clear how dangerous the people we're going after are. And I guess you didn't think about your poor mother, now, did you? She's all alone by herself at home, worried to death about Serena, and then us, and then imagine what she must feel like now that she can't find you? Come on, son! I'm not angry or disappointed or anything, but I thought I taught you to use your head better than this!"
Argus's lip quivered, and he looked like he was about to begin crying. He lowered his head before he spoke, not wishing to look his father in the eyes.
" I-I'm sorry, dad. We just thought that we could help..."
" That's true." Vann muttered under her breath.
Roygo narrowed his eyes and put his attention towards her.
" You shouldn't be here either, young lady. I know that your friends are in danger and that you want to help, but you're even more unprepared for a situation like this than he is."
Roygo ran a hand through his beard.
" But I can't exactly stop you two now. We'll talk about this when we get home. So get your asses back in that carriage; understand?"
" Yes sir." they both glumly said in unison.
There was already a sizable crowd gathered around the ferry when the party arrived there. Hopping out, Lance went to investigate exactly what the hell was going on, the others staying back to watch the carriage. Pushing through the throng, he noticed that most of them were varying degrees of angry. At the front of the crowd, a short woman was trying to keep things civil.
" People, please!" She begged the crowd. " I've already told you that the ferry can't run right now. I don't know when we'll be able to get everything back in order, but if you just wait for a few days I'm sure we'll be operational by then!"
Lance frowned, trying to imagine what could stop them from crossing the river. A dwarf standing next to Lance in the crowd leaned over to his friend's ear and whispered something, Lance picking up on it with his keen hearing.
" The fuckin' boat aint even at the dock, mate. I think we just cut our losses and head somewhere else. That half-breed's just trying to stall for something."
The other dwarf nodded, and they quickly pushed their way to the back of the crowd and left the scene. Lance leaned up against a nearby lamp-post and waited for the crowd to disperse. When they finally did, it didn't really seem like anyone's mood had changed, but the woman who had been addressing the crowd seemed relieved that nobody had escalated the situation any further. Lance approached her as she was leaving the scene, and called out to her.
" Hey, excuse me, miss! Can I talk to you for a minute?"
She turned, a scowl already darkening her face.
" Listen up, pal, I'm not in the mood for this right now. I have enough going on without someone asking the same questions that I've been answering all freakin' day!"
" Please, I just want to know what the hell is going on. It's really important that we cross the river as soon as possible."
She rolled her eyes.
" I lost count of how many times I've heard shit like that today."
Lance was getting impatient.
" Listen, I wasn't joking or trying to get pity from you, lady. I just want to know why the fuck the boat isn't even here. Can you at least tell me that?"
She sighed, running a hand through her long hair. She was in thought for several minutes before finally caving into his request.
" Alright, fine. I'll tell you what happened. Come with me."
He nodded, and followed her towards what appeared to be the boathouse. Getting closer to the door, she stopped him and pointed at the handle. It was completely smashed in; only splinters remained around the edge of the space that both the knob and the lock had occupied. Lance bent down to peer through the opening.
" A forced entry? Someone broke into where the boat was being kept? I don't get it."
" How about you go inside then?" She replied, crossing her arms.
He obliged, slowly opening the door to peer inside the building. It was built like an average shed that somebody would keep, with a simple wooden floor. The middle of the building gave way for water; leading directly out into the river. A large, wooden door also separated the outside water from this space. Only one thing was missing from this environment.
" The ferry..."
" Stolen." The woman said, walking in behind him.
Lance shook his head and looked at her.
" What about the ferryman? Can't someone just lend him another boat to cross people in?"
She awkwardly rubbed her arms.
" About that..."
" Let me guess, he's not here either?"
" It's a bit more... complicated than that. I'll give you the full story."
She sat down on a box near the wall.
" It was a couple nights ago..."
The wind billowed the woman's cloak, buffeting her as she fumbled with the keys to the boathouse. Finally, she managed to get in and out of the soaking rain, turning on a lantern that sat on a nearby table. She took her cloak off and set it down on the same table.
" Gods, when is this storm gonna let up! I am gettin' real sick of this rain."
She took off her boots and dumped the water out next to the ferry, and sat down at the table, annoyed. Her socks were soaking wet after the trek from her house at the edge of town all the way to the river. She wished that Duggan didn't make her do crap like this all the time. But of course, someone had to look after the ferry in case anything happened during flood season. Nevermind that it was almost midnight, or that Leya had worked her ass off and thought that she deserved a break at some point.
Suddenly, she heard a loud knock on the door. She cautiously got up and peered out of the window pane to see who it was. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the top of her boss's head below, the baldness reflecting the moonlight.
" Mr. Duggan, I thought I was gonna be here alone tonight. Why're you here?"
The dwarf smiled as he entered.
" I thought about it for a while, and I realized that I couldn't just leave you out here all by your lonesome. That's just not right! So I thought that I'd stay out here with you for a while."
" Oh... that's... actually really nice of you. Thank you, sir."
" No problem!"
They sat, and chatted, and listened to the storm for several hours. As the night dragged on, Leya found herself sorting through several of the large crates they kept stacked against the wall, out of a desire for something to do and a need to do inventory at some point. She was closing up the lid on final crate when Duggan got up from the stool he had sitting on. He stretched his arms out behind his back and yawned.
" I think I'll be headin' home now. Just wait another hour or so before you leave, alright? And make sure to lock up."
She passively dismissed him with a wave.
" Yeah, yeah, I know the drill. This isn't my first time staying here late."
With a smirk, he put on his shabby raincoat and went to open the door to leave.
Suddenly, there was a loud knock. Surprised, Leya looked over the crates to Duggan, who in turn glanced over his shoulder at her, before cautiously reaching for the doorknob.
Opening the door a crack, Duggan saw the outline of a tall, lean man standing out in the rain. Looking up, he only saw the man's eyes in the dark. They glowed with an air of absolute menace that sent a shiver down Duggan's spine.
" Kind sir," The man began in a pleading tone. " I know that it's awfully late, but me and my friends really need to cross tonight. It's of the utmost importance. We're willing to pay whatever you want at such an awkward time of night."
Duggan narrowed his eyes.
" You'll have to come back tomorrow morning. If it's really important, get here early."
The man sighed and shook his head.
" I knew it wasn't gonna be this easy."
Quickly anticipating something, Duggan slammed the door shut and locked it. He backed away from the door, Leya looking at him confusedly.
" Uh... sir? Who was it?"
Suddenly, a hand smashed through the door, sending the doorknob and the lock flying backwards, where the chunks of wood and metal embedded themselves in the wall of the boathouse. Someone kicked the door open and began walking inside. Leya instinctively ducked down behind the crates, which provided a convenient semicircle of cover.
" What the hell do you think you're doing, you crazy bastard?!"
Ghostblade ignored the angry yelling as he casually strolled into the boathouse. He marched straight up to Duggan and grabbed the dwarf by his fat neck, slamming him against the wall. Duggan wriggled and squirmed, but there was no way that he was overpowering the assassin.
" Now you listen here, you short little son of a bitch. You're gonna do whatever I say, for as long as I need. You do exactly that, and maybe when I'm done you get to stay alive. How does that sound? Good? Great, let's go."
He tossed the dwarf into the boat without waiting for a response, his stout body causing it to rock violently for several moments. Ghostblade turned towards the door.
" All right, bring 'em in."
Serena came through first, being violently shoved forward by Axle, who was carrying a large sack over his shoulder. His sister came through the doorway last, checking to make sure no one was behind them. Ghostblade stepped into the boat, towering over the defenseless ferryman. Axle threw the sack into the boat before stepping aboard himself. The sack began squirming on the floor, and it became obvious to Duggan that someone was inside of it. Serena was once again pushed forward, falling into the bottom of the boat. The sister boarded last, and nodded to Ghostblade. He crouched down to be close to Duggan's eye level.
" Alright, asshole, here's the deal. You're gonna take us straight across the river, to the nearest town. No detours, no tricks, no backtalk, or I'll cut your fucking legs off and dump you in the water. Is that understood?"
Duggan weakly nodded. He got to his feet and lifted the bar that kept the large doors to the river closed. Pushing it to the actual floor of the boathouse, he turned and grabbed an oar that sat on the floor of the ferry, between the seats. He pulled up the small anchor from the shallow dock, and pushed off with the oar. The boat slowly drifted out into the river, where it quickly picked up speed with the current.
Leya sat, trembling, for several hours, even after she knew that they were gone. When the morning light came in through the open doors, she cautiously peered over the edge of one of the crates. Seeing that nobody was present, she bolted for the door and ran home.
" And that's pretty much it. I sat there sniveling like a coward, but I just didn't know what else to do. I feel so awful... I hope that Mr. Duggan is okay."
Lance was silent for a moment as he processed this story. There was no doubt in his mind. The group she had described was definitely Ghostblade and his other mercenaries.
" It's a good thing you didn't try to do anything. You probably would've gotten yourself killed. That guy would've loved to make an example out of you, trust me."
Leya nodded sullenly. Lance stood up, one of his hands reflexively resting on his scimitar's hilt.
" Listen. We're hunting down that group that you spoke of. I promise that we'll try to rescue your boss if we find him."
She looked up at him.
" Yeah, I promise."
Heading back to the carriage, Lance saw his father smoking from a pipe in the driver's seat.
" Dad!" He called out to him.
Roygo looked over and saw him approaching, and signaled for him to move to the back. Lance nodded in response. Roygo hopped out of the driver's seat, and the group convened in the back. Lance sat down, legs crossed, and began.
" Alright, so here's the deal. They passed exactly through this town a couple of days ago."
Everyone was silently listening as they waited for him to continue.
" They still had Serena, from what that woman told me. And I'm also fairly certain that the other one... uh... Alice, is with them. And they kidnapped the ferryman to get across, so we're stranded here without him, or the actual ferry."
Lance let that sink in for a minute. Argus was the first to speak up in this silence.
" So... what do we do?" He said in a worried voice.
They all looked at each other. Roygo shook his head.
" I'm not sure at this point. But we have to find them, and I know we will succeed."
He looked at them all.
" Alright, any ideas for how we're gonna do this? None of us are exactly master sailors."
Barnaby raised his hand.
" This is gonna sound really ridiculous, but I was kinda already thinking about something."
Roygo raised an eyebrow at him.
" Alright, so this is kinda hard to explain. The old-timey pioneers, and I'm talking REAL old-timey, had a way to... sort of 'float' their wagons across rivers, if you will. We shove the tarandors back here, or we ditch them and try to find some new animals on the other side."
Lance actually laughed.
" Wow, that sounds incredibly stupid and dangerous! That'll never work!"
Roygo raised a hand to interject.
" Now, hold on, Lance. Yes, it sounds incredibly dumb, and it is potentially very dangerous in the wrong rivers, but it does work. Most of the time, that is. Since it doesn't look like we have many other options, I'm all down for it if we can find a way to keep the tarandors. Maybe we can ditch some supplies..."
Roygo scratched his chin as he thought about the idea more. Lance gaped at him in disbelief.
" You can't be serious. This is way too dangerous; we have no idea how to do it, even if we do decide to do it in the first place! Argus, you're with me on this, right?"
Argus turned nervously towards Vann, who was also thinking.
" It is true that it's dangerous... but it's also true that it's worked before. Hmm... I trust Mr. Gilamore on this decision."
" Well then, I trust Dad too."
Lance shook his head.
" You're all crazy."
" Holy shit, this is crazy; this is crazy..." Lance murmured to himself as they pushed off. He prayed to every God he could remember by name as he climbed into the open back, where the tarandors sat, legs folded on the wooden floor. They had sold all of their supplies to make room, hoping to be able to buy more in the town they landed at. He grabbed one of the oars they had procured and helped Barnaby give the last shove out of shallow water. They poked at the bed of the river, to the point where they couldn't reach it anymore. Roygo sat, cross-legged in the driver's seat, concentrating all of his might into using his magic to keep them slightly above the water. Astral hammers spun on the underside of the carriage, just barely propelling it upward. Roygo struggled to keep them from shooting the carriage straight into the sky. Argus and Vann sat with him, Keeping an eye out for obstacles in their path.
" We are never gonna fucking make it."
" Don't worry, sweetheart, you'll be fine!"
Roygo reassuringly patted his daughter on the head, smiling at her in the lobby. Serena sniffled and hugged her stuffed bear against her chest.
" Daddy, I don't want to go up there."
He sighed, and crouched down to her level.
" Listen, Serena. You have no reason to be nervous, alright? I guarantee they're gonna be all sorts of nice to you, and if they aren't? King Rohbear will make sure they are. Understand?
She nodded quietly, but still pouted.
" Alright, well then I'll be waiting in here for you. They said that someone was gonna meet you through the first door to bring you up."
He pointed to the only other door in the front lobby besides the entrance, next to a desk where the receptionist sat. She smiled encouragingly at Serena, who nervously approached the door. She walked down a short hallway and couldn't help but exhale at the room she encountered.
Made of elegant marble and glasswork, this room housed a central column of stained glass, where the elevator to the top of the spire sat. A staircase spun around the column, and as Serena walked forward, she looked up and could not see its end. When she finally did look away, she realized that a large throng of people inhabited the room, which was also much bigger than she realized. Many elves in fancy suits and robes talked openly here, and some more intimidating people wore the shining steel armor of the elven military as they patrolled around. Serena was mesmerized by everything around her, and wasn't paying attention when she bumped into someone.
Serena fell back with a grunt and grabbed her bear off of the floor. When she turned back around, a woman was crouched down and narrowing her eyes at her.
" What are you doing here, little girl?"
Serena looked at the woman more closely. She felt extremely uneasy about the way the woman was staring at her.
" I'm... um... uh..." Serena nervously stammered out.
" Are you lost? Where are your parents?"
Serena vigorously shook her head.
" I'm not lost! I'm supposed to be here! And my daddy is waiting in the front room!"
The woman frowned.
" Mmhmm... okay. What's your name?"
" My name is Serena." She shyly admitted.
The woman's eyes widened. She quickly grabbed Serena's arm and began dragging her towards the elevator.
" I'm sorry for the confusion. I knew that you were going to be young, but I expected you to be a little older than this, at the very least."
She yanked Serena forward, and pressed the button to call the elevator. Serena rubbed her arm after the woman let go. She looked down at the young girl.
" I apologize if I hurt you. I've never really been around young children before. I probably come off as... mean."
This last word she said like she didn't know whether or not it was appropriate. Serena gave her a funny look and they were left in an awkward silence for a few minutes. Finally, the elevator arrived, and they stepped inside. Serena pressed her face up against the glass as they ascended, looking through the stained glass as the people below got smaller and smaller. The woman decided to try and make small-talk with Serena.
" So, Serena, is this your first time in Than'drellfal?"
She pulled away from the glass and shook her head.
" No. I've been here lots of times with my daddy and my brother."
She looked up at the woman, curiosity bubbling in her mind.
" Where are you from? Your clothes look kinda funny."
She looked down at the silky material of her garb, and then back at Serena.
" Well... I live in a place called Ninjaru. It's certainly... different than this part of the Realms."
" What's it like there?"
She thought for a moment about how to best explain the city and the land.
" I guess the easiest way to explain it is that it's... very close to the Earth."
Serena was confused.
" It's really low?"
The woman actually smirked at this response.
" No, what I mean by that is that it's very connected to Earth Magic, and the Earth Dragon Rokesh. The plants and wildlife there are enormous, and most of the landscape is absolutely beautiful. It's a very calming place, if you don't get too close to anything."
" What does that mean?"
The woman gave a wicked smile.
" It means that all sorts of dangerous things lurk deep in the wild, where people were never meant to venture. Some plants are just as ferocious as the predators that live in those jungles. It's the perfect testament to nature, and the perfect place for Rokesh to slumber. His followers sometimes go on mass pilgrimages into those very places, hoping to find some sort of 'promise land' and connect fully with him. They don't come back."
" That place sounds awful!"
The woman smiled, more sweetly this time.
" Like I said, it can be a very enchanting place. That is, if you know what to look for. Here, watch this."
She cupped her hands in front of her, as if she was holding something in them. Serena leaned forward, eager to see what she was going to do. Suddenly, a large flower started to spiral out of her palms, until a beautiful lotus sat in them. She handed it to Serena.
" There you go. When I first came across a giant lotus flower, I wanted a way to remember its beauty, so I developed a spell just for summoning them. It's one of the bases of my fighting style now. But of course, when I first began summoning them, I was still an artist."
She genuinely smiled, remembering good times that had long passed. The elevator stopped, and the doors slid open. The woman walked out, Serena following closely behind. They came up to a large, wooden door flanked by guards in gleaming, golden armor. They nodded at the woman in recognition, pushing the doors open for the duo. On the other side, the Elven Council awaited them.
The man sighed, also revisiting memories of Serena's visit to the Council that day. He took a cigarette out of his mouth and put it out in the ashtray on his desk. He glanced around the room.
" Minerva, I know that you're here. Stop hiding in the shadows."
A young woman walked out of the corner, as if she had materialized there. She apologetically bowed to the man sitting at his desk, and stood at attention in front of him.
" I'm sorry, master. I didn't mean to intrude on your privacy, it's just that... I'm concerned about something. May I voice this concern?"
" You may."
" It's about... him. I don't trust him. He's a liability with no loyalty to you. I think he'll turn on us as soon as it's profitable. I dug around like you asked me to, and he abandoned his old employers at a moment's notice. I think you should allow me to get rid of him, or... well... there is always that... other option."
He smiled sincerely at her and stood up.
" Minerva, dear, don't worry. Our friend may not know it yet, but he's already served his purpose. We'll deal with him soon. Trust me."
He reassuringly patted her on the shoulder. She nodded in acceptance. At this moment, a servant walked in and silently handed the man a letter. It had the official seal of the Elven Council. Not even reading it, he tossed the envelope on his desk. He looked at the servant, who immediately went and fetched him his coat.
" They're finally calling the meeting. Minerva, this is your time to shine. You know what to do."
She nodded, and stepped backwards into the shadows. The man walked out of the room.
A few minutes later, when he was sure he was alone, a man broke his invisibility. He leaned up against a bookshelf in the corner of the office, shaking his head. He pushed up his glasses, talking to himself.
" I knew I couldn't trust them, but damn. Already plotting to get rid of me. I guess that means that I should take my leave. If any of these wandering drones manage to catch wind of me and he figures out I was in here, I'm done for for sure."
He opened up a small portal in the middle of the room, and jumped inside of it.
As soon as he entered the room, Visgar had to duck to avoid a chair that would've cleaved his head off. Looking over, he saw the culprit of this aggressive act. Virgo Sunsword was in the middle of a heated argument with Silvian Rendomarr. He slammed his fists down on the oaken table.
" She's a person, damnit, and a member of this council just like you and me! We have to help her because we care!" He yelled across the table.
" I'm the voice of reason here, Sunsword. She's a dangerous weapon. I was against this since day one; I knew that something like this would happen. Now that she's out of our hands, I say let whatever fool took her think that he can harness her powers. Maybe we'll get lucky and both of them will blow up in the process. It would be less of a hassle in the future."
Virgo put one leg up on the table like he was about to leap over it and strangle his fellow councilman. At this point, Visgar had already taken his seat at the end of the table, next to the Tarcial`Embeart representative. He watched this spectacle unfold, rather amused by it.
" Will both of you asses just shut up already!" Yelled an agitated voice from near the head of the table. Both of them looked to see the annoyed look growing on Lyn Azveltara's face. Virgo reluctantly retrieved his chair and sat back down, an arrogant smirk resting on Rendomarr's face.
A few minutes later, the King of All Elves arrived. He walked into the room, an aura of calm settling over everyone present. Even Virgo relaxed a bit. He sat down at his place at the head of the table, where his elegant chair floated several inches off of the ground.
" I would like to thank all of you for coming here today. It is not usual for us to have an emergency council such as this one, but the circumstances call for it."
He looked at each and every one of the elves gathered before him, frowning at the empty seat next to him where Quintara Lotus usually resided. He thought that this would be important enough for her to attend.
" For the few of you that are not aware, one of our members has been abducted. Our young representative from the sister families; Serena Gilamore. All of you should know the implications that this event produces. The only reason that she would be the target for any kind of attack is if someone or some organization is trying to use her unstable magic as a weapon against us, and against the Realms. There is no telling how much damage she could potentially do. That is why it is imperative that we spend all available manpower and resources that we can into her rescue."
There was a general murmur of agreement, with Rendomarr being the only one who silently shook his head. His opposition was ignored by the rest of the council. Rohbear turned his head to Lyn.
" Is there any news, Warden?"
She shook her head.
" None that's good, my King. I have every one of my assassins scouring the Realms, but they've all come up empty. The only thing we've managed to figure out are the identities of the kidnappers, based on the descriptions given at the party. I'm absolutely positive that the ringleader is the assassin known as Ghostblade. It seems that he's hired several mercenaries from a notorious clan of goros to help him, as well. This man should not be taken lightly. He's the one responsible for the murder of several of the old dwarven kings."
" I see." He turned to Virgo, who shook his head.
" Same on my end. I have every Sunsword and Paladin outpost on high alert for any travelers matching their descriptions, but I can't spare any actual manpower to go out searching. I'd be leaving huge gaps in defense in areas I need to keep an eye on."
Rohbear sighed, and turned his head towards the end of the table, at Visgar.
" Our network of agents haven't found anything, either." He calmly told his King.
Rohbear shook his head in disappointment.
" This is not good. I'll need some time to formulate a new plan. Perhaps we should render the services of the Dreamweavers... But, in the meantime, I want each and every one of you doing everything that you can to help."
" I plan on going on the hunt myself as soon as we're done here." Lyn nodded in response.
" Very well. This meeting is adjourned."
As they all began funneling out of the room, Virgo pulled Lyn to the side, wishing to speak to her privately for a moment. It was very obvious that he had something on his mind.
" Are you all right, Virgo? You look very... strange right now."
" I'm fine, trust me, but I just have an... uneasy feeling."
" Oh?" She cocked her head to the side, intrigued.
" Do go on."
" Alright, then. What do you make of Visgar?"
" Oh. Well, he's certainly not like his father. He seems much more levelheaded than Grisham ever was. I wish he was still with us, though. Why do you ask such a thing?"
A moment of silence passed, as Virgo stared into nothingness.
" No real reason. I just had a weird feeling in my gut. I might just be hungry, for all I know. Sorry to have bothered you."
He walked out of the room to begin taking the stairs, rubbing the pearl of hindsight that was embedded in his eye socket. It had begun to irritate him greatly.
" To ensure the strength of ourselves and these Realms, we must secure the strength of the past. That strength is the first step in securing a new future."
Minerva ran this saying through her head as she descended deeper, through the shadows of the stairwell. When she reached the bottom, she cautiously left the shadows and began walking on the hard stone. Ahead of her lay the massive door to the vault, flanked by a dozen armed guards. She approached these guards, knowing that they would not fight her, if everything had gone according to her master's plan.
When she got closer, every single one of them began moving in unison. Expecting them to attack her, Minerva quickly hopped backwards and pulled a thin blade from behind her back. When they did not, she put her blade back in its sheathe and watched as they simply opened the vault's door for her, and then went back to their posts. She walked past them, poking and prodding their bodies to see if they would react at all. They didn't. When she crossed the threshold of the vault and stepped inside, she broke into a wide grin.
Treasures and relics of all shapes and sizes littered the ground, sat in display cases, hung upon the walls, and were locked inside chests and safes all around Minerva. She smiled towards the heavens, praising her master's ingenuity. She took her bag of holding off of her belt and began searching.
She found a plethora of useful and quite amazing equipment. A black face-mask turned her invisible when she crouched down, so she took that for herself. Her master had no need for hiding in the shadows like she did. A pair of gauntlets that increased her strength tenfold went into the bag. Other miscellaneous enchanted items also found themselves a home in the Realm of Holding. But there were several specific items that she needed to find for her master.
The first was quite recognizable; a winged steel helmet with a sprawling set of runes stitched all around it. From what her master had told her, it would give her the ability to read any language that had ever existed in the Realms. She would need it to obtain the other items.
Next, Minerva needed to find a very specific tome written in ancient elven, that had been created by some of the first elves. Or so her master had said. This task proved to be rather difficult since many different books and scrolls littered the vault, but eventually she found one that she believed to be it. She tested her theory by removing the helmet. Sure enough, the text on the front of the book became almost immediately incomprehensible to her. Putting it back on, she smashed the glass of the case and retrieved the tome.
The final two items were the most important. Her master had specifically stated to be as extremely careful as possible when handling these things. She kept searching in the vault, before coming to the conclusion that they were nowhere to be found. Puzzled, she almost didn't know what to do until she noticed another door leading to a side room. This one was was made of thick steel, and engraved in runes. Above it, In large letters of the ancient elves, read:
She scoffed and opened the tome. She needed a specific spell to break the magical protection on the door, and she soon found it. With an incantation spoken in the most powerful language next to that of the Dragons themselves, the runes crumbled and faded into dust in the air. Minerva closed the book, and opened the door to this secondary vault. Inside, she found exactly what she was looking for.
Two glass cases stood in the center of the room, which was entirely coated in a fine layer of dust. She walked over to the leftmost case first. Inside, a long object was wrapped inside of a delicate cloth. Minerva tenderly picked the seemingly normal lock on the case, and equally as careful, removed the object. She did not dare lay eyes on whatever it was before her master did, so she put it into the bag of holding. Turning to the other object, it was very clear what it was.
A large sword sat ominously in a dark leather sheathe. Minerva had to use the tome again to remove the runes protecting this weapon, and was soon successful. She opened the case and began to reach for the sword, but suddenly her hand stopped before it grazed the object. For a split second, it was as if her body was refusing to make contact with it, in a desperate plea for her not to do it. Minerva, well versed in all things Dark, could almost see an aura coming off of the weapon. A feeling of terror went up her spine, but after a moment she quickly regained her nerves and grabbed the heavy sword, stuffing it into the bag as well. She stared in uncomfortable silence at the case that she had just stolen the sword from, before crawling into the shadows of the room.
Cynthia sat in the chair in her husband's study, silently watching the night sky through the bay window behind his desk. She sighed to herself and leaned back, the chair creaking in response.
" Cynthia?" A voice said from behind her.
She turned, facing the open door, where Seymour stood at the threshold. He had a concerned look on his face.
" How are you feeling?"
" Not well." Was her only response.
He nodded, slowly walking into the room with his arms crossed.
" Listen, I know you're worried sick about them. I understand. Really, I do. I know what it's like to lose people. In worse ways than you're probably thinking. I've seen some of my best friends eviscerated, blown apart... turned ageless. I was just as reckless as most of them in my day. I'm lucky to even be here talking to you, to be honest."
She looked at him halfheartedly.
" You're not exactly instilling me with hope here, Seymour."
" My point is," He said, continuing. " Is that your family is a cut above the rest. You really think that Roygo would let anything happen to any of your children? Speaking of the kids, Lance is just about as great as Roygo is, Serena is, well, Serena, and even Argus is pretty good at Ice Magic."
" What are you trying to say?"
" I'm saying that you don't need to worry about them. Worry about your own well-being right now. I'm sure that they're all gonna be fine. You just have to wait."
She was silent for a moment, but it was clear that she was thinking about what he said.
" Alright, I'm gonna go back downstairs. You know where to find me and the other guards if you need anything."
He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him, leaving her alone. She turned the chair back around to stare at the night sky, the moon illuminating the landscape. She got up, feeling queasy, and turned to start walking towards the door. She stopped. Someone was standing in front of it in the dim light of the office. Someone she didn't know.
" Wh-who are you?" Cynthia nervously sputtered out.
The woman had a mask pulled over her lower face. She did not speak. Cynthia backed up, behind the desk again. The woman slowly began walking forwards.
" Stay back! Don't come any closer!"
The woman stopped when she reached the desk.
" Do you want to see your daughter again?"
Cynthia's heart skipped a beat.
She did not repeat her question. She simply extended her hand, offering it to Cynthia. Cynthia, afraid, shook her head, and slowly backed away, towards the window.
The woman shook her head.
" I thought you would make this easy."
She began to move around the desk towards Cynthia, who cried out in fear. Suddenly, the room was flooded with light from the hallway. Cynthia and the woman looked at the doorway.
" Cynthia, are you okay? I thought that I heard shouti-" Seymour said as he stepped into the room, but he stopped talking when he realized that she was not alone.
" Who the fuck are you?!"
The woman rolled her eyes and turned to face him.
" Answer my question! Who are you, and what do you think you're doing?" He aggressively pointed at her.
She drew a thin blade from behind her back.
" getting rid of a witness."
She lunged forwards at him, soaring over the chairs in front of Roygo's desk. Seymour ducked and rolled to the side, getting up near the wall. He glanced backwards and saw a sword on a wall display. Grabbing it, he quickly turned to face the woman, but his eyes widened as he looked around the room. She had disappeared. He turned to Cynthia.
" Where did she go?!"
She shook her head, equally confused. Seymour held the sword in both hands, unsure of the outcome of this fight. He put his back up against the wall.
" Cynthia, I need you to listen to me very carefully. I want you to slowly start walking to the door. I want you to get out into the hallway, and run as fast as you can. Get to the guards downstairs. Do you understand?"
She nodded, and slowly began stepping around the desk. Seymour watched anxiously as she crossed the room, and she surprisingly managed to make it to the doorway. She hesitated before stepping out.
She quickly ran out the door. Seymour stepped away from the wall, beginning his own sprint, but he had only made a few steps when he suddenly collapsed. He couldn't breathe. He gasped, and coughed up blood. He managed to turn himself around towards the wall and gaped up at it. The woman that had tried to attack him was sticking halfway out of the wall, from the torso up. Her blade was coated with blood, and she coldly stared at him on the floor. He reached up to feel his throat, and his hand instantly came in contact with gushing blood.
She emerged from the wall, lightly landing on the floor. Seymour weakly grabbed for the sword on the ground.
" I've pierced your neck with my rapier. I estimate you'll be dead in less than a minute. Please don't struggle."
He fell back against the floor. His vision was darkening. He reached once again for the sword, his fingers unable to even wrap around the hilt.
She sighed, and walked up to him. She poised her sword above his head. Seymour closed his eyes.
" Linn..." He hoarsely whispered.
He was dead before the tip of the rapier pierced his temple.
Cynthia ran as fast as she could, terrified. She looked back several times, but Seymour was not behind her at any point. She flew down the stairwell to the first floor, making her way towards the quarters that the newly installed guards were housed in. It was hard to make her way through the house since almost all of the lights on the first floor were turned off. Finally, she stumbled into familiar territory, a breath of relief temporarily escaping as she ran up to the nearest door and knocked on it as loud as possible. She heard a chair slide back on the wooden floor inside, and opened her mouth to call for the guard.
Suddenly, an arm snaked around her neck and a hand was clamped over her mouth. Terrified, her gaze was forced upwards, where she saw the woman, sticking halfway out of the ceiling. Her eyes widened in fear.
" I don't think so." The woman whispered to her.
Charley opened the door, letting the light from his room flood the hallway. He was usually the only one who stayed up this late when he wasn't on patrol. Poking his head out, he looked both left and right, not seeing anyone in the hallway. Shrugging, he thought maybe he had just been hearing things. He yawned, and closed the door, wanting to go to sleep.
Serena felt that she was floating. Slowly opening her eyes, one by one, revealed a familiar chaos. The colorful, almost cotton-candy like clouds of the Dreamworld swirled calmly around her.
" Okay... I can work with this. Uh... let me try..." Her sentence broke off as she extended a hand downwards, where a mass of clouds were solidifying to make her a platform to stand on.
" Alright, baby steps. Now how do I get down to it?"
Suddenly, she felt gravity return, and she fell downwards, flailing her arms as she landed with an 'oof' on the surface below.
" Ow... sometimes I forget how things work here."
She stood up, dusting herself off, and looked around. She opened her arms to the heavens.
" Okay, Dreamworld, bring me Alice!" She shouted, hoping that just asking would work.
A funnel in the clouds appeared, forming a catwalk to her platform. Walking out of it appeared the thief, in what she had been wearing at the party.
" Okay, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be."
She walked over and placed a hand on Alice's shoulder, which promptly fell through her whole body.
" What the..." Serena said, confused, as her friend's entire body dissipated into clouds. She angrily looked up, as if expecting someone in the clouds to answer her next question.
" Are you freakin' kidding me? You know what I meant by that! I want Alice here! My Alice, not some stupid illusion! She's like five feet away from me in the real world, can't you just drag her in here? It managed to happen when she was in an entirely different city, but you're gonna tell me that you can't do it when we're in the same room?"
She crossed her arms, waiting. After several minutes that felt like an eternity, another funnel opened up in the sky above her. Her ears perked up as she heard a high-pitched noise begin emitting from said funnel, and she saw a shape begin to take from as it fell towards her. When it got closer, she breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the terrified screaming of her friend falling out of the sky. When Alice neared the platform, she braced for impact, but stopped short just before she would've slammed into it. She sat stock-still, heavily breathing, with her eyes closed, hovering a few inches above the platform. She slowly opened one of her eyes, and then fell that last length onto the floor.
" Ugh... what the hell. Where am I this time?" Alice sat up and rubbed her head, not noticing Serena yet.
" Welcome back to the Dreamworld!" Serena exclaimed, startling Alice.
" Shit! You're here too? Wait a second, is this that fucking place you brought me to before?"
" Well... yeah. Sorry to interrupt your sleep, but I figured this was the only place we'd be able to talk privately. I just had to pray that I would have one of these dreams at one point."
" Great... we're working on nothing but a prayer right now. Being in here isn't exactly helping out there. So, if you have any other ideas, I'd really like to hear 'em."
" I have one thing that can get us out of this mess, but we're gonna need some pretty perfect timing to pull it off."
" Fuck, I'm all ears, then."
Serena sat down, and began unlacing her boot. Alice watched, unimpressed so far. It was only when she had taken it off all the way, and dumped out the contents, that Alice's eyes widened.
" You've had a fucking knife this whole time?!" She angrily yelled.
" I haven't exactly had the opportunity to use it, y'know."
Alice picked up the dagger, squinting to examine the blade.
" So all we have to do is wait for a time when they aren't watching either of us, and get lucky enough that you have enough time to cut me free?"
" Essentially. I was hoping that once you're free you can get this damned collar off of me." She tugged on the steel device and grunted with effort to emphasize her point. " Our escape is virtually guaranteed at that point."
Alice scratched her chin.
" I'm sure it's gonna be a bit more complicated than that. That thing looks pretty complicated, and without access to any of my tools..."
Serena nodded grimly.
" I see. Well then, we'll just have to run like hell. Maybe if we're far enough away the collar will stop working."
The clouds began to darken and become still. Serena looked around, obviously frustrated.
" Oh, damnit!"
" We're out of time here. Someone's waking me up."
" Come on, wake the fuck up already!"
Ghostblade delivered a hefty kick into Serena's side, not worried about harming her in the slightest. She awoke with a gasp and grasped at her stomach before glaring up at the assassin.
" How 'bout you fuck off!"
He laughed beneath his mask.
" It's adorable when you try and sound tough. Go ahead and keep up the bravado while you can. The boss is gonna be be here any day now."
" Someone's gonna stop you. You really think no one is looking for me? Half of the elven military is probably out right now, scouring the Realms! And if not them, then my family is gonna come and kick your ass!"
" You mean the old thane and the idiot who tried to rush me? Yeah, I'd totally put my confidence in them right now. Fairly certain the old man is dead, by the way."
Serena hesitated before continuing to argue.
" Th-that's not true! You're gonna rot for a long time in the Silvermines when you're caught!"
He kicked her again, this time in the jaw. She fell over, a pool of blood forming around her head. When she shakily sat back up, she was completely fine.
" Asshole..." She muttered, but Ghostblade had already left the room.
She looked over at Alice, who had at this point been pretending to still be asleep.
" Yeah, you me and both."
Ghostblade closed and locked the door behind him. He looked to his left, where the female goro was leaning against the door of their impromptu-prison cell. He handed her the key to the door.
" You keep watch over them, Rodia."
She nodded in response.
Walking through the quiet hallways of what once must've been a very impressive trading post, the only feature that now stood out was how decomposing it was. They had very luckily located an intact room in which the door, and lock, still worked.
Ghostblade sighed. The extra muscle of the goros had not been needed. He should've killed them both back at the cabin, or before they got to this final meeting point. They were more annoying than anything at this point. At least the sister was somewhat competent. The brother... something was off about him, Ghostblade thought. He had been acting strangely the entire job. Ever since they actually pulled off the kidnapping. Leverage? Insurance? Bullshit. They didn't need the other girl. Ghostblade wasn't sure if Axle was just stupid, or a little fucking creep who wanted to tie up a girl. Maybe both? Or maybe he was just some kind of psychopath. None of those ideas made any sense to Ghostblade, though. He could feel that something else was going on with Axle. He furrowed his brow until he made it to the front lobby, where Axle was keeping watch.
" Oh, hey! Didn't hear you sneaking up on me. Haven't heard or seen anything up here." He said, reclining in the chair behind the front desk.
Ghostblade silently walked up and pulled the chair out from under Axle.
" Ow-hey, what the fuck, man?!"
" Get your head out of you ass, Axle; this isn't over yet. Don't get lazy in the final stretch of the race."
He grumbled something and got back to his feet, dusting himself off.
" Fine, but you don't have to be an asshole about it."
He walked over to an adjacent hallway and found the place where they kept their bedrolls. Laying down, he hoped he could trust the twins to watch over their prisoners while he slept.
Two days. He was two days late. Agitation was setting in. It was setting in for Ghostblade the worst. An operation like this wasn't something you just forgot about. Something had either gone wrong, or was going wrong. An uneasy knot was slowly growing in Ghostblade's stomach the longer they waited. He found himself sitting on the roof on this particular night, trying to figure out what the hell to do.
Rodia joined him. He glanced over as she approached.
" Where's Axle?"
" Guard duty." She said, sitting down.
He mumbled something inaudible.
" Yeah, I know what you mean by that. He's been acting... weird. I haven't seen him anything like this since he had a girlfriend. And that was years ago. But don't worry, I'll reign him in if he goes off the deep end. I always was the more level-headed out of the two of us."
He didn't reply.
" Look, I can tell that something's on your mind. I wont prod any more, but trust me; we're all nervous. I just wanna get my money and get out of here at this point. We all do."
They sat there, quietly, for some time. They were interrupted by a series of loud, banging noises coming from behind them. Turning, they saw Axle climb through a hole in the ceiling.
" What's up, guys? What's going on up here?"
A fire grew in Ghostblade's eyes.
" Axle, what the FUCK are you doing out here?! Who's guarding those two?"
Axle twirled the keyring on his finger.
" Relax, they're not escaping. I got the key right here. Just thought we could chill out for a bit. I'm kinda doubting whether or not our guy is even coming now."
Ghostblade's blood began to boil. He had had enough of Axle's stupidity.
" Damnit, you MORON! You just left them both unguarded? How fucking stupid are you?!"
" Will you fucking cut faster?!" Alice harshly whispered as Serena sawed into the rope around her wrists.
" I'm going as fast as I can, just chill out! I don't know what the hell Axle is doing, but I don't think he's trying to help us by leaving. I just hope we have a few more minutes."
Finally, the rope snapped, freeing the last of Alice's upper body. She took the dagger and began freeing her legs while Serena looked out the small window in the door, in case anyone suddenly came back. After an agonizing minute, Alice was completely free. Serena looked back at her.
" Okay, step one. I didn't really think we'd get this far."
Alice walked over to the door and examined the lock.
" Mmm... it's probably pretty simple. I bet we're just in the remains of what used to be some bum's office here. And if it's a simple lock..." She let her hair fall down, holding the single bobby pin she had up to the light.
" All I need is a simple lockpick."
" I finally get to see the famous thief in action."
" Not really the time to be doing banter." Alice shot back.
Inserting the pin into the small keyhole, Serena watched with bated breath as Alice worked her magic. After a few seconds, Alice began violently jiggling the pin around, until an audible snapping was heard.
" Oh shit! Did it just break?" She asked, worried.
" Uh... kinda." Alice said, pushing the door wide open.
" Wait, but it unlocked..." Serena said, confused.
" Yeah, I kinda just jammed it in there until I broke something. Now how about instead of talking about how I did it, we get the fuck out of here?"
Serena nodded in agreement.
The room was empty. The old door was swinging, wide open. Ghostblade stepped into the room, only to glance at the cut rope on the ground, before stepping right back out. He turned to the twins.
" Find them. Or I swear to, whatever Gods you worship, that I will decapitate both of you."
They both nodded, and began running down the length of the corridor, in the only direction the two possibly could've escaped to. Ghostblade's grip tightened on the door-frame in anger, the old wood cracking under the pressure of his fingers. He breathed in, calming himself. He gently let go of the frame, and took a step forward, in the direction the goros had went. He stopped before his foot hit the ground. He slowly turned his head to the other end of the hallway, which was basked in deep shadows. Small slivers of moonlight creeping in through the cracked walls were the only light sources available to him. Ghostblade narrowed his eyes.
" Who's there?" He asked to the empty hallway.
There was no response. No movement whatsoever. Ghostblade put his hands on his daggers.
" I don't know if you're invisible or not, but I know you're there. Show yourself."
His eye was drawn to the shadows above. Something about... there.
He quickly threw one dagger towards whatever unknown presence lurked on the roof. Invisible to most eyes, his heightened senses allowed him to witness a dark shape moving through the air, where it disappeared into the floor on contact. This transpired almost in an instant. He drew another dagger from his belt.
" Fast. Whoever, or whatever, it is; it's fast. But I can still get a glimpse of it." He thought.
Slowly scanning the area around him, out of the corner of his eye, a patch of shadow on the wall grew slightly darker.
He pivoted around, thrusting both daggers into the wall, where they were firmly stuck. Immediately realizing his mistake, Ghostblade quickly kicked off the wall, flipping through the air backwards as he recovering his weapons. As his feet left the surface, a thin blade materialized out of the wall. If he had remained by it for any longer, his gut would've been skewered. He landed lightly, making sure he wasn't too close to any surface besides the floor.
" Alright, enough playing around! Who the hell are you?" He shouted into dead air.
It moved in front of him, to the ceiling. Backing away slightly, he held both daggers up defensively. His caution turned to curiosity when he saw the shape emerging from the shadows.
She landed on the floor gracefully, almost making no noise. Ghostblade was impressed. He could make out her slim figure, covered in what appeared to be some sort of body-suit. The only other things he could see were a long scarf that draped down past her waist, and a mask that hid her lower face. She was completely silent.
He glanced at a strange shape attached horizontally to her waist. In the moonlight, his best guess was that it was a sheathe for the blade she tried to attack him with.
" I'm pretty sure I know what you're here for. The girl is ours. I don't know who tipped you off, but you better back off, or I'll be forced to kill you."
She drew her weapon.
" Your main strength is the mobility you gain from the shadows. I don't know how, but you're able to travel between them at a speed almost invisible to the naked eye. You can attack me from any angle. And I'm going to assume that you're here to kill all of us. If that weren't the case, I'd really like to learn more about you. Shame that such a promising young assassin has to be cut down on the job."
He could tell that the last jab had broken through her calm facade. A flicker of rage crossed her eyes, before she regained her composure.
" I don't know if a simpleton like you can understand what's happening right now, so I'll try to help. You have done exactly what I've needed you to do. You brought the target halfway. I am to bring her the rest."
" So you attacked me to test me."
" No. You have all outlived your usefulness. There must be no witnesses. You will die here, in this decrepit place. I hope your money was worth it."
" I can hear their footsteps up ahead! We'll catch them around this corner. Axle, get ready."
He nodded to his sister, who already had four different weapons drawn. Apparently, she wasn't in the mood for a nonlethal takedown.
They reached the corner, and the footsteps died. Instead, angry yelling filled the air further down.
" A fucking dead end? Really?!"
" How was I supposed to know?"
Turning, the light from Axle's lantern illuminated the pair of escapees staring at a wall further down the hallway. They heard the goros coming, and turned around. Alice stepped in front of Serena, holding the dagger up in a fighting stance.
" Come quietly, right now, or I'll make you fucking regret it." Rodia said as she advanced, swinging a flail through the air.
" You should probably listen to her." Axle added.
Alice gritted her teeth and ignored what he said. The duo backed up closer to the wall.
" Don't come any fucking closer. I might not be able to get out of here, but I swear to every God that I'll bury this dagger so fucking deep in your chest that your heart will explode out of your back."
" I'm real scared. Put the knife down and you live." The goro said as she advanced. Axle simply crossed his arms and waited, blocking the hallway.
Her grip tightening on the dagger, Alice tensed up as the goro stood mere feet away, a whole arsenal of deadly weapons on display against her one tiny knife.
" You wanna go, bitch?" Alice threatened, thrusting her knife forward.
Alice braced herself as the goro's legs tensed up, as if she was about to pounce on top of Alice. She brought back one of her arms to begin a swing with a large broadsword.
Suddenly, an explosion rocked the building.
The firebomb went off. It was a good one, of rare, Desdonian, quality. Flames engulfed the old hallway, the rotting wood easily giving in as fuel. Ghostblade was flung backwards by the explosion. He shakily stood up, scorch marks and his own blood now covering his tattered jacket. Half of his metal mask was currently missing, exposing part of a hideous wound.
" Son of a bitch..." He said in between labored breathing. " If that didn't kill her, then I don't know what will."
He stood there, holding one hand over a cut in his side, staring at the flames. A dark shape slithered behind him, to the edge of the fire's light. Her movement seemed deliberately slow this time. She emerged there, standing just out of where the floor was lit up. She was not without her fair share of battle damage, most notably the several stab wounds that Ghostblade had managed to put into her torso. He shook his head.
" You just don't know when to fucking go down, do you? I guarantee those injuries are more fatal than mine, but you're just standing there, as if you haven't even been hit yet. Just who the hell are you?"
" I am an instrument. I have been honed, refined, and perfected by my Master since my birth. I am his servant and his servant alone. His will is mine. And his will shall be carried out. This pain you have inflicted is excruciating, but it does not contend with the pain of failure."
Ghostblade rolled his eyes.
" A willing slave, huh?"
" You may call me whatever you want. I don't care. I will get to call you a corpse soon."
" Then why don't you come over here and make me one?" He goaded her.
For a moment, she hesitated. Ghostblade witnessed her shuffle backwards a step, and he turned his head to watch the flickering light and shadows from the fire dance. He turned back to her.
" The inconsistency of the shadows is making you hesitant. You aren't sure if you can use them to the fullest without making yourself vulnerable. Your weakness is light. If I flood the place with light, your options become extremely limited. Good to know."
Her nostrils flared from beneath her mask.
" You... you think you have me figured out? You absolute cretin!" She yelled, lunging forward in an attempt to stab his chest.
As she approached, Ghostblade pulled a scroll from behind his back. Winking, he crushed it, and disappeared from sight. Landing where he had stood, Minerva saw an outline moving past the flames, fading in the opposite direction. She was about to attempt a chase when she felt an object hit her foot. Looking down, her eyes widened as she saw another firebomb rolling around on the ground.
" What the fuck is going on?" Rodia said, as the second explosion came from down the hallway.
" Nothing good; I can guarantee that." Axle replied.
The twins' attention was turned away from the escapees. All four of them were equally nervous at this point.
" Axle, you stay here and watch them. I'm gonna go check on Ghostblade. I think he's in serious trouble."
He nodded, and she began running down the corridor. Rodia hadn't even ran back to the corner yet when she stopped. Materializing out of the ceiling came the assassin. Minerva collapsed onto the floor below, panting hard. She was covered in burns and scorch marks now. She shakily sat up, and took a small vial from off of her belt. She drank the contents of this vial, and seemed to be invigorated once more. She looked up, and realized that she was in the presence of the rest of her targets.
" What the fuck is going on?" Rodia said, as Axle rushed to her side and armed himself.
Serena and Alice were still pressing themselves against the wall at the far end of the corridor. Minerva's eye was drawn past the twins, where it rested on Serena. A burning feeling of purpose lit up her eyes, and with a sudden burst of energy, she launched herself up from the floor and past the goros, making a beeline for the girl. As she flew by, Axle managed to grab onto her long scarf and slammed her to the ground, stopping her momentum.
" I'm not sure who this chick is, but she's definitely an enemy! And judging from those explosions, I'd say that Ghostblade's probably a goner. Let's fuck her up, bro."
The twins clasped their arms together in agreement, and turned to their new enemy. Minerva groaned and turned her head to them, glaring.
" Fine. If you want to die, I can make that happen."
She stood up and threw her scarf off in a dramatic manner. Fully drawing her rapier, it seemed that she had regained her composure. She sunk into the floor.
" Shit! Where'd she go?!" Rodia exclaimed as the pair frantically looked around the hallway.
Suddenly, Minerva shot out of the hall, aiming to stab Rodia in the head. Axle narrowly managed to lunge in her way and block the sword with his own daggers. As soon as this transpired, Minerva retreated back into the wall, away from the light of the lantern hanging from Axle's belt.
" Shit! That was too close. Axle, we have to get the hell out of here! Go get those two and we'll make a break for it. I'll warn you if she tries attacking."
Trusting his sister's combat abilities, Axle nodded and ran back to the duo.
" Alright you two, this job's falling apart. I don't know what the hell we're gonna do with you, but right now we all need to get out of here. Now come on!"
He grabbed both of them, snapping the knife out of Alice's hand. They both protested heavily to this agreement.
" I don't have time for this bullshit! We have to-" Axle was cut off by the metallic rasp of a sword from behind him. Turning his head, he watched in horror as his sister stood, staring down at the numerous holes that had been punctured in her chest. Her light, leather breastplate had stood no chance of defending a single hit from the assassin's rapier. She looked up at Axle before collapsing onto the ground.
Behind where she had been standing, was Minerva. Her rapier was covered in fresh blood. She stared down the three who remained. Axle released his grip on both girls.
" Axle. Give me my bag of holding. Right. Fucking. Now." Alice slowly said, as the assassin observed them.
Shaking, he granted her request and slowly handed her the bag from off of his belt.
" Get this damn collar off of me! I... I don't think you can win this fight. Especially not without my help." Serena said.
" Ghostblade had the key," Axle hoarsely replied. He could barely find his voice as he stared at the corpse of his sister.
" Fuck. Okay, Serena, I'll try to pick the lock now that I have my stuff. Axle, you have to buy us time. I don't know how much I need. Just... stall."
The pair quickly crouched behind Axle, who was now the only obstacle between Minerva and a successful mission.
" Something... something is keeping her from attacking us. She could easily do it. End it. But she isn't. Is she toying with me? Fuck. I... never thought it would come to this. I always figured I'd die first. How could she die? She was smarter, stronger than me. More levelheaded. We never should have gotten involved with this stupid clan. It was a death sentence. We knew it would happen eventually. We both said we'd rather die as warriors than in a grave of old age. Oh Gods. I'm scared. I don't want to die. I don't want Alice to die. Why isn't she attacking? Why did she attack sis' and not me? What do I have... the lantern. She's moving in the dark. She can't do that teleporting shit in the light. Okay. Okay. I have the advantage here. We have to stay in the light."
Axle swallowed the bile that was building up in his throat. He glanced back at them.
" Are you almost done yet?"
" Just give me a few more seconds... Fuck!" Alice quietly shouted.
" What did you do?!" A panicked Serena said as she turned her head.
" I... I think I jammed it. I'm not sure..."
Axle glanced back again. He had an idea on how to help.
" Alice, take the lantern," He said as he unhooked it and handed it to her.
" Uh... okay. What are you about to do?"
Without answering Axle turned around, and bent down to Serena's level. He grabbed the steel collar with all four of his hands, and pulled at it with all of his might. Poor Serena was basically being throttled by this action. With one powerful, final tug, the steel band snapped, finally freeing Serena's magical abilities. She immediately perked up, almost as if more life was imbued into her.
" Ahhh!" She moaned, grabbing her neck. " Finally..."
" Holy shit, Axle. Good job." Alice remarked. She turned to Serena.
" Alright, now I suggest you open a fucking portal to literally anywhere else right now. Get us the fuck out of here!"
" That's... not gonna work. A portal is too risky right now. I don't think I have the energy to hold one open long enough for us to escape. And I feel like I'm basically running on magic fumes here because they haven't fed us properly or let us rest at all this entire time. I can't cast magic if I pass out after a single spell. And a portal is a lot easier if I can lock onto a source of magic. But the only ones I can feel right now are mine and... well, hers."
Minerva slowly began to walk towards them.
" Oh shit." All three of them murmured in unison.
Axle turned his head.
" It's pretty obvious who she's after here. Listen. Blow a hole in this wall and get the fuck out of here. It should be morning soon. I don't think her ability works in light. Get as far away as you possibly can. I'll try to hold her off."
Minerva was halfway down the corridor.
" Axle..." Alice quietly said. Serena was preparing the fireball to knock out their escape route.
" Just go, Alice. It's my fault you got wrapped up in this anyways. I don't want you to die. Just go with her."
A fiery blast exploded the entirety of the wall, revealing the moonlit forest outside. Minerva broke into a sprint. Axle brought his daggers up and ran to meet her. Serena and Alice jumped through the rubble of the wall and began running.
" Come at me, you stupid bitch!" Axle yelled as she drew nearer. He readied all four of his daggers and motioned to attack her. As he did, Minerva ducked underneath his outstretched arms, sliding to a position several feet behind him. Axle whirled around, to see that she was just standing there once again. He didn't understand why, until he looked down. A dark pool of blood was gathering on the floor. His blood. He put his hand on his torso, where he realized that she had gouged a gigantic cut into his side.
" I don't need to use the shadows to defeat a pushover like you." She said to him.
" You... stupid, fucking... ugh..." Axle fell to his knees. He was actually beginning to feel a pain in his side. He had never received a major wound like this before. He couldn't believe that he was feeling pain. She must've punctured several of his organs during that attack. He slowly stood back on his feet, before stumbling forward and landing back on the floor, face down. He blacked out.
Satisfied, Minerva stepped over the threshold of where the wall had once stood. Lightly planting one foot on the grass, she sunk into the shadows of the forest floor.
They were both out of breath, having ran for almost 20 minutes straight.
" Do.. Do you think we're far enough away?" Serena said in-between breaths, exhausted.
" I don't know," Alice replied. " We can't be too sure, though. Just take another minute to catch your breath, and then we have to keep moving. Hell, I'll piggyback you if you need me to."
Serena lightly smiled at this before standing up.
" No, I'll be fine. Let's go."
Alice nodded. They started off at a brisk jog, trying not to overextend themselves. It wasn't long until they came across an obstacle, though. A ravine blocked their path, leading off into the distance in either direction. There was no obvious crossing point that they could see.
" Shit." Alice said.
They both heard a rustling noise coming from behind them, and turned to see Minerva walk out from underneath the shadows of a tree. She stood in the moonlight. Her sword was back in its sheathe.
" Fuck... wait. Axle! If she's caught up to us, then Axle..." Alice trailed off.
" I will chase you to the ends of the world. No blundering four-armed fool can stop me." The assassin coldly replied. " And neither can you."
" We'll just see about that!" Serena yelled, and grabbed Alice's hand. Before she knew what was happening, Serena blink'd the both of them across the ravine. She blink'd again as soon as her feet touched the ground, and continued in this manner for at least a dozen more trips until finally, she gave out and collapsed on the forest floor, momentum carrying her several feet forward. Alice vomited as soon her hand was released, blowing the contents of her stomach onto the side of a tree.
" Oooooh..." Serena moaned as she lie on the ground. " That's it. I'm spent. I hope we got some distance on her this time."
Alice stumbled over, and sat on her knees by Serena's head. Still nauseous, she shakily reached down into her bag of holding, towards a familiar bubble. She pulled out an object, and held it up in the moonlight to inspect it. It was a bottle of golden liquid, that shined even in the dim moonlight.
" Damn... only one left." Alice mumbled. Serena weakly looked up at the bottle.
" What is that?" She managed to say before laying her head back down.
" A potion called 'Dragon Tears.' They're really rare, and really expensive. I thought maybe I had a few left... but I only have this one. You need to drink it."
" Why, Alice? What does it do?" She said, not even raising her head.
" It'll fully revitalize you. You'll get all your energy back, and you wont even feel hungry or tired for the next few hours. Your body is basically put into peak-performance mode. But when it wears off, you crash hard."
" How hard?"
" At the very least, a full day of unconsciousness. But if you drink it, you can get out of here."
" What about you?" She asked, a concern growing in her voice.
" I'm dead weight at this point. She's after you. If I hide, maybe she'll just pass me up while she chases you. But you'll probably be able to outrun her. And it'll be morning soon. If Axle was right about her shadow-crap... you should make it. I'll be fine on my own. Trust me, I can survive out here."
" No. I'm not just gonna leave you here."
" You don't exactly get a goddamn choice." Alice said as she uncorked the bottle. Serena was too exhausted to resist. Alice rolled her over, placing Serena's head in her lap, and dumped the contents of the potion into her mouth. Serena didn't struggle, and swallowed it all. The effects were almost immediately apparent.
She shot up, now actually hovering several inches off of the ground.
" This... this is amazing! My... my senses! It's like the world's exploding! I can see perfectly clearly, even right now in the dead of night! I can hear so many different animals in the forest, but they must be hundreds of yards away! I can smell your throw-up on that tree from over here! I feel so powerful!"
" That's great. Now get the hell out of here! You'll move faster without me."
Serena solemnly looked at her friend.
" I still don't want to leave you..."
" Just go already! She's probably almost caught up to us!"
" Alright, alright. I will."
She turned around to keep moving, looking back one more time.
" Scratch off one of those favors you owe me." She said, right before blinking away.
A silence followed for a few moments as Alice remained alone.
" I will."
She was practically flying through the woods, sometimes not even blinking, just leaping and running through the underbrush as the Dragon Tears gave her a Godly burst of stamina. Finally, she collapsed in an open field, not even knowing herself how far she had traveled. Laughing hysterically to herself amidst the high, she watched as Kallisto began rising on the horizon, beautiful red and orange hues beginning to replace that of the night. After several minutes, she stopped laughing and actually began to regain her composure.
" ha...hahaha...hahaha...ha... wait... how long have I been going? Where am I?"
She twisted around in all directions, looking for any discernible landmarks or towns. She was at the top of a hill, and all she saw around were leagues and leagues of trees.
" Oh... shit. I might've gotten a bit carried away."
Suddenly, she felt a presence moving towards her. Looking behind her, she was startled. At the edge of the treeline, stood the assassin.
" She... she managed to keep up with me. How? How is that possible?"
Minerva sunk back into the shadows to move closer, but Serena's enhanced vision allowed her to see a faint area in the shadow where she was, much like how Ghostblade had previously been able to. She readied herself for combat, confidence building within. Minerva drew closer, noticing the rising sun.
" If you come quietly, there does not need to be a fight."
" You think I would ever willingly go anywhere with you? I don't think so. I think you just want to avoid a fight because you know you're at a disadvantage."
" I guess I have to incapacitate you before bringing you with me. Your brain being skewered should regenerate rather slowly. I'll do that before the sunlight reaches this hill."
Serena summoned a fireball in each hand.
" If you think you can."
As Serena lobbed both fireballs, she jumped backwards and sent an additional volley of elemental projectiles at Minerva, who dodged and weaved inside of the shadows to avoid them all. She popped up behind Serena, who barely had time to blink away before she would've been hit by her rapier. In midair, Serena summoned an arcane beam from each hand, spiraling them towards the assassin, who was now put on the defensive. Serena, absorbed by her own power, kept up a constant stream of magical attacks, raining down fire, ice, and even lightning across the entire hilltop. She almost couldn't stop herself. Minerva caught a lucky break when she traveled directly under Serena, managing to stab her in the stomach before hastily retreating.
She fell down to the scorched earth, where the wound almost immediately healed. Nothing vital had been hit. She quickly got to her feet and looked around for the assassin. Spotting something out of the corner of her eye, Serena turned just as Minerva leaped out of the shadows towards her.
" Solar flare!" Serena yelled, and a blinding flash lit up the hilltop like it was midday. Minerva staggered backwards, blinded by this attack. She groped blindly on the ground, trying to find a shadow to return to. Serena, realizing this, created several small orbs of Light and blew them across the hilltop. There was almost nowhere for Minerva to hide now. The sun had almost crested the hill. She slowly regained her vision, and seeing this, began darting for the treeline, where there was reliable darkness.
" I don't think so," Serena growled, blinking to cut her off. " You don't get off that easy."
Minerva, glancing as the morning sun now completely engulfed the battlefield, knew that this was her only chance to escape. She sprinted forward, straight at Serena, who wasn't expecting such a bold attack. She readied a fireball in her hand, but instead of attacking, Minerva dived in between her legs, jumping into Serena's own shadow.
" What the hell?!" Serena shouted as she twisted around, realizing where the assassin went. Minerva took one last desperate action. She began to jump from Serena's shadow to the shadows of the forest. Reacting on nothing more than instinct, Serena tried something that she hadn't thought about at all during the fight.
Serena thrust her hands upwards and cast the spell Lascene.