tagSci-Fi & FantasySarlene's Touch Ch. 45

Sarlene's Touch Ch. 45

byFuinimel©

The fireball had had the desired effect, sowing confusion among the cloaked figures conducting the ceremony. Calleslyn had, at least for the moment, saved the intended victim from her fate, but that hardly meant that the danger was over. As she had said to Dolrim just moments before, there were too many of them, and it was likely that at least some were capable of fighting back. Valmor certainly would be, and it was unlikely he was alone.

She had had no choice but to attack when she did, but she and Dolrim were heavily outnumbered. She just had to hope that the sudden explosion and magical assault had evened up the odds a little.

"I'm going to try and protect her," she told the dwarf. After all, the conspirators were surely still desperate to complete their ritual, and that would mean taking their sacrifice back. The woman was a nun, helpless against them at the best of times. Even if she tried running, the building was surrounded by a ring of undead, and that wouldn't end well. So Calleslyn had to do something.

Dolrim grunted assent, already standing and hefting his axe. If anyone had the presence of mind to notice where the attack had come from, they would be heading up here towards the balcony. Calleslyn hoped he could deal with them as they emerged from the magical mist she had created, and that now flooded the lower half of the room.

Casting a levitation spell, she vaulted over the balustrade around the balcony, and floated gently down through the mist towards the floor, several feet below. It was as grey and disorienting down here as she had hoped, but she had already locked in her mind the direction to the centre of the room, where the sacrifice and her tormentor would hopefully still be. She ran towards that spot, unable to see anyone else through the gloom, as handicapped by that as they would be. Hopefully it at least meant they couldn't all rush her at once, which would make things a little more even.

The nun was huddled on the floor, eyes wide in blind terror, letting out a little scream and curling into a defensive ball as Calleslyn approached.

"Are you all right?" the elf asked. There was no response. "I'm the one saving you," she said, as quietly as she could, not wanting to give her location away to anyone else still in the room. "Stay near me, and you might be safe. Don't try and run, or I can't protect you."

She reached over to the figure lying on the floor nearby; the man in the clerical robes she had struck with the first spell. His eyes were open, staring up sightlessly in the direction of the ceiling. He was dead; the spell had killed him with a single stroke. Good shooting. She looked around, and saw a bulky figure looming out of the mist.

"You!" shouted a familiar, deep, voice, "bloody adventurers! You just don't know what's good for you!" It was Valmor, hair in disarray, blood oozing from a gash on his forehead, black cloak and rich robes smeared in dust from the rubble. "Get back to the cesspit dungeons where you belong!"

He raised his hands and a beam of brilliant reddish-white light spat towards her. Her own hands were already in a defensive posture, the counter-spell partially completed, but not quite sufficient. Blazing heat enveloped her body, making her cry out in pain as she fell to the marble floor. Valmor might not have her combat experience, but she knew he was a capable magician. Perhaps her only advantage was that he apparently did not want to use his most powerful magic, for fear of accidentally killing the nun alongside her... she was somebody he presumably still needed alive.

"Let me teach you your bloody place!" he shouted, face full of fury as he raised his hands a second time, towards Calleslyn's sprawled body.

Valmor might be concerned not to use his most deadly magic for fear of hitting others. But she was facing the other way, and had no such compunction. Gritting her teeth against the pain of the burns he had inflicted, she hurled a blast of blue-white lightning towards him, It hurled him off his feet, catapulting him back into the mist and out of her sight.

She listened carefully, looking about to see if anyone else was coming. There was a scrabbling sound from Valmor's direction, a grunt of angered pain, and then footsteps, staggering, moving away. The spell hadn't finished him off... she didn't necessarily want him dead, but she certainly didn't want him conscious. On the other hand, there was no sign that anyone else was approaching. Perhaps the others had all fled?

She cursed inwardly. She couldn't let him get away, and use his undoubted influence to make it look like he was the victim.

"Protect her!" she shouted up towards Dolrim "I've got to stop him.," she added, to the cowering nun, but still receiving no answer.

She clambered to her feet, wincing at the pain. It was starting to fade now, and not as bad as she had at first feared. But it certainly hadn't gone, and she could only hope that Valmor was in a worse shape than she was.

She ran into the mist, hoping to find him.

──◊──

The undead were swarming around the Temple of Pardror. If they had taken the paladins by surprise, the holy warriors were now re-grouping, fighting back against the horde of ghouls, zombies, and who knew what else besieging their holy site.

It seemed counter-intuitive at first. Why attack the place best able to fight off undead? But, as Vardala watched, she realised that there was a kind of logic in it. By attacking them first, it meant that the paladins had no chance to get organised in defence of the rest of the city. Nor could they use their normal ability to drive away unnatural creatures with the power of their holy icons, for that would just force them into the city, giving them free reign to attack the innocent. Instead, the paladins were having to hack through them one at a time, and they were clearly outnumbered, and unprepared.

In fact, there were not, it was becoming clear, all that many paladins in the city. It was, after all, hardly a common calling. Many of those defending the temple were priests, for the most part lightly armed, although a few had magic. The fight was certainly not going all their own way -- even as she watched, one cleric disappeared beneath a pack of ghouls, dragged down as he exhausted his spells. If they had known the assault was coming, they could have prepared better... but that, surely, was the point.

Vardala was beginning to doubt her choice of action, wondering if she should have stayed with the others, stopped the ceremony at its source. Was the necromancer controlling all this in the Rotunda somewhere? Presumably, and taking him out might have been the best course, after all, just as Calleslyn had said. But it was too late to second guess that now. She had come here to protect Horvan, and that was what she was going to do.

It did not take much to slip into the Temple of Felanda, the goddess of healing. The monsters were not attacking that yet, and, in any event, the temple had no guards -- it never did, for that would not have fitted with its ethos. Nonetheless, she drew her shortsword, keeping it ready as she half ran through the corridors, seeking the way to the living quarters where Horvan should be sheltering.

Unfortunately, she did not really know the layout of the temple, never having had any real need for it. When she needed healing, Lady Tarissa was always there, and, in any event, Felanda's strength was more in healing the illnesses of everyday folk than the wounds of adventurers. Perhaps she should head towards the centre of the building -- there might at least be someone there she could ask.

A few passages later, and she found herself in a large open space, filled with beds and pallets. Priests and priestesses were bustling about, in a state of frenzied desperation, evidently trying to get some of the most seriously ill people to safety. It looked as if many of them had already left, but those that remained had the hardest jobs. What presumably wasn't clear to them was that, if their temple was under threat, so was the whole of the city. There might not be anywhere safer to move the patients to.

She looked about for someone to talk to, but all the white-robed figures were ignoring her, intent on their own duties. Then she saw him, and her heart leapt; he was safe!

"Horvan!" she called out, running towards him, as he struggled to heft one end of a makeshift stretcher.

"Vardala! What are you doing here?"

"I've come to get you. Come on, we've got to get out. The outskirts of the city might be safe."

"Right..." he said, fear and confusion showing on his face, "we've got to get everyone to safety."

"What? No... we've got to go now!"

"You're not going to leave these people?" he looked shocked by the suggestion, and she was ashamed to realise that it hadn't really occurred to her.

"I... I..." she stammered, lost for words, looking about at the people around her. The priests and priestesses, defenceless all, were risking themselves to get people to safety. It was clear they would not abandon anyone, regardless of what it meant for themselves. And the patients looked desperate, helpless, some of them weak or crippled, unable to escape by themselves, allowing slow-paced healing magic to do its work, not the more instant laying on of hands that she had experienced. Battle wounds, it seemed, were easier to heal than sickness; she had never really thought about that, either.

Horvan was looking at her with desperate eyes, and so, it was becoming clear, was the priest holding the other end of the stretcher. They wanted her help, and she realised, with a sinking feeling, that she had to provide it. Besides, hadn't she thought, just a moment before, that there might not be anywhere safer than this?

"Yes... yes, of course," she said, "but we need a secure location. We can't just evacuate the temple, the things are everywhere. We need to find a safe sanctuary, here, where we can wait it out. The others have that side of things in hand... I think. Where would be the best place?"

"There's a windowless chamber that way," offered the priest, nodding his head towards a door on the far side of the room, "we use it for meditation. It has light from the ceiling, but only one entrance."

"That way, then -- everyone!" she called out, but nobody else seemed to be taking much notice of her. "Oh... you organise it," she told the priest, "they'll listen to you. I'll check the path is safe."

She ran across to the doorway, and ducked through it to look into the corridor beyond. She heard a blood-chilling howl, and something sprinted towards her. It was coming from what she suspected was the opposite direction to the chamber she was looking for, but that hardly mattered. The ghoul slashed out with its claws, but she was already out of the way, dodging to one side, blade slicing through the air towards it.

The sword bit into the creature's side, and it growled, raking its claws above her head as she ducked beneath it. Vardala delivered a second blow, slicing through a thigh muscle in a way that, on anything living, would have led to fatal blood loss. The ghoul had no such problem, but it was slowed, and, a few blows later, she had the thing on the ground, hacking at its neck until the animating spirit left.

She looked up. There were more undead coming down the corridor behind it. She dashed back into the infirmary, slamming the door closed behind her, running high on a rush of sudden energy brought about by the danger.

"It's too late!" she shouted, to anyone who would listen. "They're coming! Bolt the doors! Block them with anything you can. Quickly!"

She turned to face the door, sword still raised. She was the only person in here who could fight, and she was horribly, horribly, outnumbered.

──◊──

The side-effects of Davnait's vial were not ones that Almandar had anticipated, although, in retrospect, perhaps he should have done. As the glow suffused him, a vision of his encounter flashed through his mind, surprisingly vivid. The druid's face before his, dark eyes wide, luxuriant black hair falling across her forehead, pert nipples brushing against his chest as her heaving buttocks pressed against his thighs, her body enveloping his.

It was momentary however, and he rapidly regained control of his body, legs shaking, cock hard with the unexpected power of the memory. Then it was gone, the pleasure ebbing as he forced himself back to the present. The empty vial was still gripped in one hand, and the glowing mage-light in the other.

He turned, to see that the two paladins accompanying him had fared less well. Larimor was half crouched against the wall, overwhelmed by what Almandar assumed was not merely unexpected, but possibly also unfamiliar. Lady Tarissa had slumped over, her sword fallen from her fingers onto the stone flagging beside the water conduit, her face burning crimson, blue eyes wide with shock.

Almandar suppressed a smile; the sensation might even do them good, and they would recover soon enough, even if it took them a little longer than it had his. Then he caught Tarissa's expression, and saw that her eyes were focussed on something behind him, and any thoughts of amusement vanished as he whipped round to see what she was looking at.

It was moving quickly, down the tunnel towards them, dozens of legs skittering against the walls and floor, a great segmented creature illuminated by a dull red glow from beyond. For a second he thought it was some kind of giant centipede, but it's eyes were too large, its head the wrong shape, and there were sharp needle-like teeth within its gaping mouth.

He dropped the vial, acutely aware that neither of the paladins was yet in a state to act, and that he needed at least one hand free to cast a spell. It was too late; his moment's hesitation, turning to face his companions, had cost him dear. The thing's body slammed against him, hard plates nearly as tough as metal bruising him as he twisted beneath legs with stabbing claws. He raised a hand to cover his face, one of the claws slashing against it, and only just avoiding his eyes.

He heard a shout of pain -- a man's -- and then the thing was off him, still rushing onward down the corridor. He looked up, to see that it had grabbed Larimor in its jaws, raising him aloft, about to vanish into the darkness back down the passage. The male paladin was, he knew, not full armoured, had not been prepared for action as they had, and those sharp teeth were clearly biting ferociously into his flesh.

He threw a spell after it, bursts of white light striking against the thing, and it whipped its sinuous body around to face him, Larimor still dangling in its vicious grasp. He had not dared use a more deadly spell, not when it had a victim so close, but he had at least angered it, caught its attention.

The thing thrashed its head to one side, slamming Larimor's bleeding body against the far wall of the passage, then dropping him into the hot water with a mighty splash. Then it rushed down the corridor towards the others.

Tarissa's sword was nearby, but she had been rolled away from it down the stone ledge, nearly falling into the water herself as the creature had run over her. She turned to face him desperation in her eyes, clearly once more in control of her body. He grabbed the sword and threw it in her direction, pommel towards her, and she snatched it from the air with practiced ease, just as the thing reached her.

It was ignoring her, trying to run over her again in its apparent eagerness to reach the half-elf. She slashed her sword upwards, cracking armoured plates and causing a spray of strange, blue blood to splash over her. But still it came on. Almandar threw up a shield spell, rolling down to the ground as it rushed over him, claws sliding on the unexpected invisible barrier. He felt a blast of heat against his face, and realised that the red glow came from the creature's back, actually glowing red hot with some kind of bizarre internal energy.

The creature reared directly over him, maw open wide, teeth dripping with Larimor's freshly shed blood as the invisible shield gave way. Almandar desperately hurled another spell upward, straight into the creature's face. A blast of brilliant white energy engulfed it, accompanied by a paralysing, numbing cold that flooded the entire area.

For a moment, the thing remained poised above him, insectile face coated in a thick layer of sudden hoar frost. Then it crashed down, landing partly atop him, legs thrashing feebly, teeth cracking like icicles, eyes permanently blinded. He was vaguely aware of Tarissa finishing it off and rolling it into the water channel, hot liquid splashing over him as she did so, and then he somehow clambered to his feet.

Tarissa barely glanced at him, turning away to run back down the corridor as he staggered to follow her. She was plunging her hands into the hot water, shouting something barely coherent until one of Larimor's weakly flailing hands found hers. Almandar helped her haul her fellow paladin from the water -- thankful now, that the man hadn't been fully armoured.

He was badly injured, clothes torn and bloodied, a gaping wound in his chest, barely alive or able to move. Tarissa leaned over him, and Almandar fancied that he saw tears in her eyes as she placed her hands over the chest wound, pressing down as she muttered a prayer over and over.

Larimor spasmed, spitting out water, the wound visibly healing beneath the woman's magical touch. He would live, but, Almandar thought, he could hardly be in a fit state to continue.

The same thought had evidently occurred to the paladin. "Go on without me," he gasped, locking eyes with Tarissa.

"We can't leave you here!" Almandar caught the raw emotion in her voice, wondered for a second what she had seen when he opened the vial, and then thrust the thought back down as unworthy.

"You must. You have to stop this thing. Leave me my sword. Everything's coming from beyond that place, you can stop it before it gets to me. I'll be all right. Now go!"

She nodded, although the magician could see the reluctance in her face. They had no choice.

──◊──

"Who is this person?" demanded Eristacia, a hint of hysteria in her voice. "I demand to know what is happening!"

They had gathered in some sort of underground chamber. A cellar, she supposed, beneath the Rotunda. Initially black, it was now lit by an orange glow from some sort of magical sphere that one of her fellow conspirators had produced from beneath her robes. There were only six of them in the room, although she knew others had survived. Tenik and Scaggs had been close by her when the explosion happened, and she had seen both of them still standing once the mists had descended. Yet neither were in the little group now.

And, somewhere, there was Yelvann, of course, the pet necromancer whose hordes were supposedly destroying the paladins as the ceremony got underway. There might be others, too, although she was sure some had been caught in the mysterious blast. How could everything have gone so suddenly, horribly, wrong?

"That seems a fair question!" snapped one of the other cloaked figures, a merchant whom she did not know particularly well.

"Is this it? Are we all doomed?" asked a second man, nervously, until Amloth quelled him with a disgusted glance.

"No, of course not," snapped the drow, "somebody has found out about us, tried to stop the ceremony, but there is still time. There's another way," she turned to look at the stranger, "isn't there?"

"There is," said the mystery woman, "the Presence is not so easily defeated."

"And just who the hell are you, anyway?" snapped the remaining conspirator, the woman who had produced the magical light. Eristacia thought she was some sort of petty sorceress. "And what are you?"

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