tagRomanceA Perilous Journey Ch. 11

A Perilous Journey Ch. 11


The Ahlissan Chronicles

~ Novella 2 ~

A Perilous Journey

~ 11 ~

A Race Against Time

The three men continued working their up toward the central chambers of the pyramid. After several winding corridors led them above what must have been ground level and into the actual structure of the pyramid they came into yet another wide open hall supported by bright blue and gold pillars. The images and inscriptions here were inlaid with turquoise and gold. One particular image captured Aizantius' attention and he left the safety of his fellows and walked over to it; he stopped in front of it and ignored their requests to keep moving.

Brion and Astinos approached the wizard from behind trying to discern what had so captivated the older mages' attention. Lord Brion who was anxious to continue to where Eryca was surely being held but knew that whatever Aizantius was studying had to be important for the mage to stop and become so completely absorbed in it.

"What is it my friend?" Brion inquired. "What is it that you see?"

They waited while the brown bearded mage continued to read and study while scratching his chin and stroking his long beard.

"If I am interpreting these pictograms correctly and I like to think that I am, it would seem that our host here is a very old mage."

"How old exactly?" asked Astinos lines of concern appearing on his forehead.

"Oh, about 500 years old." replied the mage still studying the wall.

"But that would mean..." muttered Astinos. Brion finished completed the priest's thought out loud.

"He is a Lich." Brion said. He stood and thought for several minutes, he had fought and destroyed many magikal and natural creatures in his time but never a lich. It was generally known that a lich was the most dangerous form of undead that existed. It was a while before he spoke again.

"Aizan, my friend," Brion touched the mages' arm and broke his concentration "can we destroy this creature? Or do you think we can rescue Lady Eryca and somehow make our escape?"

Before Aizantius could answer, Astinos plied the mage with a question of his own.

"I thought that once created liches were immortal and that their souls were stored in their phylactery. Simply put, killing their physical form is useless. Unless you can destroy their phylactery they will simply restore their physical body."

"Yes..." said the mage through his thick beard.

"Then why does this lich want Lady Tandris? Why go to all of this trouble?" asked the priest shaking his head in confusion.

"According to this" said the mage "he is not the kind of lich that you speak of. Whoever he is, he has used a much older and safer form of magik. When magi attempt immortality by becoming a lich there is a significant chance that the process will utterly fail, thus ending their life anyway. It seems that our friend here has found a way to drain the life-essence of others and use it to prolong his own existence without the dangerous side effects of the traditional process."

Lord Brion clenched his fist and spoke, his voice a low growl behind the visor of his horned helmet.

"So he intends to drain Eryca's life-essence to prolong his own wretched existence."

"Yes it would seem that is the case. According to these inscriptions, young virgin females are the optimum choice for this draining magik. Their already long life coupled with the potential to create and carry new life makes them ideal."

"Such evil..." Astinos whispered as his hand clutched at the bronze medallion that hung about his neck.

"I hesitate to tell you the rest but it is of the utmost importance" said the mage as he turned to their young leader. Lord Brion felt his throat go dry with the revelation that things could be even worse.

"It seems my lord," Aizantius spoke quietly "that the draining process will not kill her."

"What will it do?"

"It will leave her in a state of undeath very much like his own, yet not as prolonged."

Brion turned away and he felt a chill run down his spine as the implications of what Aizantius had told him played through his mind. His beloved Lady Eryca forced to live hundreds of years as the undead courtesan of this wretched being. He pledged he would die before he would allow that to happen!

"Come my friends," Brion said steadily "the Lady Tandris needs us."

The trio exchanged glances and then turned toward the far end of the room and continued across the hall and through the archway on the other side.

* * *

"Marcella, Meredith, bring her to me." The undead Archmage commanded as two women appeared out of the darkness and lifted the sobbing Eryca to her feet. Unlocking her manacles and holding her between themselves they walked her over to the altar that had only moments earlier emerged from the floor. Taking care not to harm her they held Eryca up as Lyzandred passed his hands over her trembling body and murmured strange words of magik.

When he was finished he stepped back around the altar and watched as Marcella dressed in gray robes and chainmail manacled Eryca's hands above her head. Likewise, Meredith dressed only in filthy brown robes locked manacles around Eryca's ankles. When the young woman was secured to the altar Marcella adjusted a winch which pulled the chains of the manacles taught, thus pulling Eryca spread eagle and exposing her near nakedness to Lyzandred's lecherous gaze.

As Eryca watched, Meredith carried a large and ancient looking spell-book over and placed it on a podium before the Arch-Lich. Meredith stepped back as Lyzandred passed his hand over the book in a series of magical movements while whispering in the ancient Bakluni language. When he completed his spell the heavy steel clasps which locked the book shut popped open on their own. With the ancient spell-book unlocked Lyzandred opened the cover and began to search for the appropriate silken bookmark.

When Lyzandred had found the appropriate bookmark, he used both of his silk covered hands to lift the heavy parchment pages as a whole and turn to the correct place in the book. As he scanned the page and studied the ritual, he suddenly lifted his head and peered out into the darkness of the spiral columns. He then turned to Marcella and motioned for her to approach him.

"Yes, master?" she asked the ancient lich.

"Marcella, someone is approaching. Would you please see that I am not disturbed?"

"Of course master." Marcella said before she walked into the spiral forest of columns and the darkness beyond.

The small exchange between the lich and his thrall was not lost on Lady Eryca.

"He is coming for me isn't he?" Eryca said defiantly, choking back her tears.

"Hardly," said Lyzandred not even bothering to look up at her from his spell-book "Marcella will destroy him and if not then her sacrifice will slow him enough for me to complete my work."

Eryca looked up into the blackness of the ceiling and pulled against the chains which held her tight. She refused to listen to Lyzandred; she knew that Brion would not fail her. He would come for her. Eryca closed her eyes as a small smile formed on her full lips and she felt the warmth of hope flood through her tired body.

* * *

The three companions rushed up the stairs into another darkened hall, they were closing in on the center of the pyramid. They had quickened their pace since finding the ancient inscriptions that had revealed the horrible reason for Eryca's captivity and they were determined to reach her before the evil lich could carry out his plans.

As Lord Brion reached the top of the wide staircase into yet another pillared hall, his instincts screamed at him to duck. He dove forward and rolled across the floor just as a warhammer swished through the air where his head had just been. As he completed his roll he came to a standing position and assumed a battle stance, sword drawn. From behind the pillar came a tall fair-skinned human woman with medium-length black hair dressed in dirty gray robes over which she wore a tunic of tarnished chainmail, around her waist was a wide black leather belt and dark leather boots covered her legs. In her right hand she held a heavy steel warhammer and strapped to her left was a small wood and steel buckler inscribed with the symbol of Rao.

The two circled each other as each sized up the other. Brion could see by the blankness of her gaze that she was enthralled by the lich; she had probably been an adventurer here at some point and had been ensorcelled by the lich to do his bidding. He hated to simply kill here since she was unaware of what she was doing, however, he could not waste time trying not to harm her. Reaching his beloved Lady Eryca was his primary concern.

Marcella stepped in and swung her hammer at her opponent; Brion raised his shield and deflected the blow. He in turn slashed with his sword which Marcella parried with her hammer. They were still circling each other when Astinos and Aizantius reached the top of the stairs and saw the two engaged in their duel. Brion saw Aizantius raise his hands and recognized the arcane gestures that would cause lightning to leap from the mages' fingertips.

"Hold!" he shouted to his friends. "She is a cleric of Rao and a mind slave of the lich! Do not kill her if we can help it!" Brion shouted as he parried another strike from Marcella's mighty hammer.

Aizantius looked at the balding priest next to him in the hopes that Astinos might be able to break the spell that held the priestess. Astinos was already grasping his medallion and muttering the prayer to the Arch-Paladin that would hopefully break the lich's hold.

Brion and Marcella swung their weapons at each other and continued to block one another's strikes. Brion had so far withheld making any deadly strikes against the priestess although she was clearly trying to kill him. As she raised her arms to strike, Brion kicked her in the stomach with his booted foot knocking Marcella to the floor. Just then there was a bright flash of silvery light that engulfed the dark-haired woman. The sacred light, however, seemed to have no affect on her as she rose to her feet and continued her attack on Lord Brion. She again came at him swinging her warhammer, the blows ringing off of his black shield.

"My attempt to break the enchantment failed my friend. She has been under it a long time and his grip on her is strong" Astinos said to the bearded mage. "Perhaps if you can incapacitate her than I could use a more powerful prayer?"

"I can try Paragon" said the wizened mage, as he searched his pouches for spell components.

"Yes..." He said to himself as he found what he had been searching for. Astinos watched as Aizantius drew forth a snakeskin glove and a dried hollow eggshell. The mage closed his eyes and recited the words which would unlock the magik within him, while slipping the glove onto his right hand. As Aizantius emphasized the final words he crushed the dried eggshell in his gloved hand. Then opening his eyes, he stared at Marcella intensely and reached forth with his gloved hand.

As Brion fought with Marcella, he watched as her arms were suddenly pinned by her side and her legs snapped together. Then she was lifted and shook as if by a giant invisible hand, finally it seemed to crush her until her inability to breathe forced her into unconsciousness. Then he watched as she was lowered and placed gently on the ground. As quickly as he could Astinos was kneeling over the dark-haired cleric, his hand on her forehead muttering what Brion knew to be a prayer to remove curses.

"What did you do to her?" Brion asked sheathing his sword, as Aizantius stepped up beside him to watch the priest remove the curse from Marcella.

"The Crushing Hand," said the mage as he removed the glove and returned it to his pouches "it can be useful when a curse like this one renders its' victim immune to spells that would hinder or stop them long enough to remove said curse. Now go! I sense that we are close. Astinos and I will attend her and catch up to you. Hurry, my young Lord!"

Without another word Lord Brion turned and rushed deeper into the pyramid.

* * *

Lyzandred cursed under his breath as he finished reviewing the complex spell in the immense and ancient book.

"Marcella has failed me" he said quietly "Meredith! Bar the door to the chamber to see that I am not interrupted!"

The second woman hurriedly made her way through spiral forest of pillars to the large double doors so that she could bar them. Lyzandred looked around, his eyes piercing the darkness of the shadows.

"I know that you are still here Deloraa, watching from the shadows. Do not attempt to betray me or you will never learn the secret that you so greatly desire!"

Then the Arch-Lich walked around the podium and gently caressed Eryca's forehead even as she struggled against her chains.

"Soon my beautiful maiden will become mine...forever." he said, his final words barely a whisper. Eryca continued to pull against her bonds as she eyed him coolly.

"My beloved is coming for me you undead filth, he has defeated your priestess and your witch will not be able to protect you. I suggest you prepare yourself to face your gods in the afterlife!"

Lyzandred merely sneered at her from beneath his black silk body covering.

"I think it is he who should prepare for death and you for an eternity as my consort."

Leaving his hand on Eryca's forehead and raising his right hand, the lich looked skyward and began his spell casting. As he spoke aloud the words of the spell Eryca saw the dull purple and green jewel around the lich's neck begin to glow brightly. She could pick out some of the words of the spell but most of them were unknown to her.

Once more she valiantly pulled against the manacles that held her tight, only now she felt her strength ebbing as if it was being drained from her. Eryca felt the skin on her face drawing up, tightening. Fear overtook her and she opened her mouth to scream but no sound came forth.

* * *

Lord Brion bounded up the remaining wide staircase and came to the final antechamber. Turning around on the landing he saw behind him a huge set of double doors. They looked to be completely covered in gold and ornately carved with the same animal-headed humans and other strange pictograms that adorned almost every interior wall of the pyramid.

He saw that the right door was slightly open and through the crack between them he saw the face of yet another dark-haired woman, she saw him just as she managed to push the large door shut. Brion then heard the scrapping of a bar as Meredith tried to push the heavy locking bar into place. Brion roared and ran towards the doors, he slammed into them with his shield and they shook on their hinges. Then raising his leg he gave a mighty kick and both of the heavy doors flew open.

Meredith found herself sprawling backwards as the full weight of the doors flying open shoved her to the floor. She looked up to see a tall knight clad in black plate and chainmail armor, an even blacker cloak billowing behind him as he strode forcefully into the room. Drawing his sword, he stopped and turned his head to look down at her, she could see his piercing blue eyes through the slits in the horned skull-like faceplate of his helmet.

"If you can overcome his hold on you then I am giving you this one chance to flee." He leveled his sword at her. "Attempt to stand in my way again thrall and I will not be as merciful."

He then turned from her and began to walk determinedly through the darkened room towards the light in the center of the spiral forest of stone.

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