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Posted by
MadGoblin
on
Apr 28, 2006


With a surprising bound onto the top of its work bench, the ancient dwarf rummaged through its forged wares with occasional swings at the orange streaks that passed by its way, deterring them best it could. It found the quarry of its search, a single, metal boot, as well as a stash of other assorted armaments. Leaping back to the floor, the spawn of Ymir crashed down with its knuckle first, clad in the iron footwear. As the shoe struck, the ground rippled and warped as a sonic pulse tremored through the very stones that built it. The stone flowed like ocean waves before returning to its original state, but, during its transformation, the hardening blocks trapped the dwarf's swift attacker. The beast flailed wildly, to such a speed that it still was nearly unseen, as its feet were anchored to a single point. The blacksmith had an easy target but was intercepted by the vengeful blades of the Kamaitachi's master. Both edges were caught on the long handled hammer in a quick and key positioning. Greedily, the squat being studied the weapons, noting their craft and make. Zedd was wise to withdraw without delay before too much secrets about the pair of swords were learned. Sliding into another battle stance, the scarred man circled to flank so that the spearman could attack the rear secretly. The dwarf was no fool and activated the power within a winged helm before the trap could be sprung. Holding the ordinate cap high, a wall of strong wind encompassed the master forger. Within the calm, the strong gusts did nothing to hinder his movements. Outside this ring, everyone was dragged down by the shear force of the storm. The dark elf bound forward, thrusting the head of the hammer into the wanderer's gut before swinging it back around to the apothecary, sweeping him off his feet. The Nidhogg, cloaking itself within the shadows behind dark wings, abruptly fired a stream of noxious flame from its mouth. The dragon's breath seared and fumed as it pounded away at its target. When the wyrm's flame resided, all that remained was a large scorch mark and a damaged helmet.

"Is he... gone?" questioned the lunatic, the first notable action he took since the start of the fight.

"I doubt its end could come about by means that simple-" lengthily explained the cloaked one, holding his stomach, before thick mitts wrapped around his ankles. Below him, arms broke out through the tiles accompanied by part of a face. The massive size of the tip that pierced the surface made the guess certain. Like a bird through the air or a fish through the water, dwarves could travel through their element just as easily. Earth, soil, and stone were all the same to them. The hands pulled back as a glowing disk was hurtled at them. As the spinning plate skipped off the empty location, a head emerged from it.

"Not cool," protested the shelled toad, quickly retracting back into its armor as it continued bouncing around the area. Freed, Zedd issued the same relief to his familiar, who had nearly gone insane from being forced to stay in the same place for so long, with some well placed strikes. The men paced about the forge, wearily watching the floor. Inattentive, Geirrik drew too near to the wall. He could feel the warm, rancid breath upon his back for only a moment before he dash forward. With a deep battlecry from its peculiar mouth, the smith smashed its hammer into the tiles. During its path, the head glew brilliantly, burning white hot. Sparks sprayed upon its impact. The stout being chased after the man with more wild blows but lost the chase due to its short legs. As this fact was realized, the dwarf dropped back through the floor. Panting and wheezing, the summoner looked over to see the freak sitting calmly on a table.

"Hey, that's not a bad idea," noticed the one with scarred eyes.

"What ain't?" The maniac was clueless to what it could be.

"Uh... nothing. On an unrelated topic," Geirrek failed to smoothly transition, "I thought of an idea. If we keep off the floor," he added more quietly, "and walls, this dwarf will have to come out to face us." Spryly, Zedd lept upon the sturdy workbench along with Dai-sho. He and the recently perched Entropy looked to find the spearman mounting a slab of granite.

"Do you desire to inform him of his folly," implored the mystic, "or should I be the ill messenger?"

"The real question is," corrected the drake, "should either of us say anything."

"This is foolery," accused Zedd. "If our foe is using coward's tactics to hide from us, let us dismantle his veil!"

"... huh?" The gray one's head twisted on his neck until it nearly turned completely sideways in his blank minded state.

"You. Bomb. There." The wanderer from afar made this repetition unmistakably clear with the use of rigid hand signals pointing to the floor.

"Oh, a li'l bit o' boom-boom is what ya got in mind?" proudly caught on the fiend. "I'd love to, but I'm 'fraid I ran out. Used m' last one to break into this place. I'll have to restock at the depot." Whistling sharply, for as sharp as someone who could not whistle was able to manage, the yellow hair sprung out from hiding. "Hey, Floppy, I needs another bomb. Get yer fluffy ass over here and cough one up." As the orders were delayed with an angry scowl, the dark elf's arm emerged from the wall unseen as it pried open the forge's door. With a blast of smoldering air, a swarm of fiery fliers exited the unit as well. The glowing insects filled the workshop as did a dense, black haze. The horde had particular interest in Flop-Hop, making constant passes at his mouth. "C'mon, Hop, what's yer problem?" With a shrill cry through tightly pressed lips, the rabbit shook his head.

"He can't," bellowed a deep voice. It came from Raph, pulling himself up over the bench's ledge.

"Can't? There's only one thin' he can't do," grumbled the lunatic with an unfit smile, "so why won't he do this?"

"He'll die," croaked the Strong Toad. Their master seemed indifferent.

"A piece of my soul to save the day seems like a fair price to pay-"

"Us to," added the ever mellow Raph. Bending his thick neck upwards, his stare jolted one of the bugs into another, smashing them both on the ceiling which erupted into a small pyrotechnic display that showered the area in twinkling sparks. "Neat," the amphibian simply described as his lips curled in a wide smile.

"Are ya really sure he would?" questioned the maniac on someone else's knowledge, something he had no right to do. "I mean, even if he did it really fast?" The cloud of Pyrallis grew thicker as more of the four-footed moths poured out from the furnace. "Okay, okay, no boomers, but, hey, 'tis not like we'd need 'em to clear out these li'l pests. Am I right?" As his confident words were boasted, a new doorway was created to the forge, in addition to the one previously there and that he had created not long ago. Within the hole stood a thick, sturdy figure that tore the opening wider with its bulky limbs. Rough and unrefined, the being was barely shaped like a man as it was not despite that being precisely what the clay was sculpted to resemble. The mammoth golem rushed into the chamber with its massive fists raised as the ancient dwarf, its creator, wicked cackled through its circular mouth. Before being met by the clay giant, Geirrek shot a cold glance at the fiend.

"You can't talk anymore.




Posted by
MintMan
on
May 11, 2006


The walking statue charged straight toward its creator's adversaries. They scattered in any direction out of the golem's destructive path. The Pyrallis were swatted away or often times simply ran through; the bugs and their fiery finishes where little more than annoyances now. The group had much larger concerns.

The rampaging clay giant tore through a cloud of the burning moths, giving light to its finely chiseled armor as the insects expired on its chilled exterior. It clumsily swung a clubby limb at the spry greyskin. Bits of the devastated floor the fiend had just leapt up from exploded past the lunatic, chipping its goggles and shredding its coat even moreso. Still suspended from the jump, the mad one had no way to dodge the golem's next fist. The blow carried the nuisance straight into a standing wall, crushing them both. The fiend was pulled from the rubble with the giant's fist, its wretched claws dug in tightly to the constructs unyielding skin.

"Flop-Hop!" it barked orders and blood, "I order ya to eat this thin' now!"

"I can'th!" whined the rabbit, perched on the automatons's leg with a full mouth. "It'th thust too muth!"

"Yer worthless, ya know that?!" the lunatic managed to rattle off before being smashed against one of the few remaining walls.

On wide, swift wings, Entropy flew onto the mammoth's back. Its claws and bites could do nothing against the clay giant's defenses. With its free arm, it grasped the wyrm and slammed it through one of the many work benches. The Nidhogg writhed about on the shrapnel-laden floor, its back bloody from the many instruments that protruded out of it. The construct loomed over the fallen drake, clasped its fists up high -- still holding the battered lunatic -- and prepared a finishing blow. Twin glints of steel fell upon the wicked creation; its hollow gaze found only the wanderer, standing without arms or guard. Although he had successfully drawn the automatons's ire, Zedd had no way to fight it off. Not yet. The dragon had already failed with brute force; Zedd tried patience. For every crushing fist the golem threw, the scarred one appeared out of harm's way, as though he was never there to begin with. This continued farther and farther into the room, luring the clay monster away from the injured familiar. For every blow, the cloaked man evaded and watched, learning the earthen machine's workings.


The dwarf, free from distraction, rummaged through the wrecked workshop for the most powerful weapon not currently walking. Its search was soon disrupted by a steady tapping. It looked up from the junked pile to see the apothecary, knocking the end of his spear against the granite below.

"Looks like you don't have a partner, either," Geirrek sounded, sliding his hood off from over his eyes. His cold, blue stare met the inhuman's, both kept in a complete still. "Well then, let's dance."

The ancient elf sprung out from the mangled metal brandishing a jagged blade larger than itself. The several spikes blurred together in a frenzied whirl as the dwarf descended. In the brief moment he had to react, the summoner thrust his polearm into the cyclonic circle, halting the deep demon's attack and advance and forcing it back into the air. The dark one flipped around in an acrobatic display and returned to its target with weapon aimed. Geirrek's gauntlet was already held forward in expectation, shining an arcane symbol before him for an instant, followed soon by a booming wind. The diving dwarf hung mid-air before the spearman, paralyzed from attack by the driving gale, and was thrown up to the ceiling.

The pit fiend sprawled softly across the hard, stone top, suspending itself with a spider-like climb. It rebounded back at the terrible one, too quickly for him to connect with his spear. Ymir's progeny wove its sickly frame beneath the sweeping steel, through Geirrek's legs, and into the floor. The apothecary fell onto his bloody knees over the still rippling ground. He turned his cursed gaze and scanned for where the vermin might resurface. With a flick of his wrist, the heavy warspear was swung up behind him and into his brazen grasp. The dwarf's attempted surprise attack fell too slowly on the waiting shaft. The apothecary dragged his weapon from the deadlock, catching the spiked blade on the angled tip and clattering it across the floor, away from the dark elf's hold. The spearman followed through on the momentum he had gained with a solid swing, which the dwarf blocked with its hands and teeth. It gnawed tirelessly at the shaft, but released as a curved blade of ice shot up, before any real damage could be done. The earthspawn melted into the ground yet again to avoid the strike, but soon after bounded out from its safe haven, not towards its opponent, but towards its clay creation.

Stepping over the several craters it had created in its hunt, the golem gave no heed to its master until it jumped straight into it. The dwarf phased through the armor, still of its own element, halting the giant for a moment. Its carved helm rose up toward its long sought after target and made another assault. As before, Zedd inexplicably avoided its pounding fists, but not what followed. The stalking statue ripped up the castle floor, hurling stones wildly in a wide swath. The wanderer had dodged right back into harm's way.

Geirrek came to his ally's aid atop the still injured Entropy. It let out a vile curse, against which the armor gave little defense. The apothecary launched a vial onto the clay behemoth followed by repeated strikes to the softening areas. The golem rolled over with impressive dexterity, forcing the summoner to leap off for his life.

"The giant could neither move nor think so swiftly before," Zedd stated laboriously, heavy with wounds. "The dark elf has lent the machine his speed and mind."

"Ya think?" sarcastically retorted the spearman, nursing his injured arm. The wanderer was not listening; his eyes were closed, and hidden whispers passed his lips. "What was that?" Geirrek started up, thinking that something had been said against him.

"Nothing for you," was all the cloaked one answered. In seconds, the golem's arm collapsed from its body, accompanied only by a swift breeze.

"Yeah, have the arm fall on me!" complained the severed lunatic from beneath the gargantuan fist. Its toad made such a predicament of little matter, and the others did not exactly care what happened to the fiend anyway.

Before Dai-Sho could dismantle the other shoulder, a quick grasp surrounded the weasel midway into its work. The giant's grip now slowly squeezed the life from the Kamaitachi, giving little heed to the repeated strikes of Zedd's mysterious swords. The Miraj spiraled towards the construct's heart, where the dwarf was hiding, but was swatted away by the golem's remaining arm. With its attentions away, the wanderer bounded off the automatons's leg and straight for the hand. With a precision slice, his edge passed through all of the fingers and little of his familiar's fur. His blade was vanished before snatching away his unconscious pet and rolling to safety.

The greyskin ran before the advancing giant, casting back its mutilated hand with the living buckler. Blow for blow, the fiend stood up to the forged warrior, reflecting each attack with an unseen barrier. The massive creation pulled back its arm for a devastating swing, but the lunatic seized the moment. The odd little head poked out from the shielding shell and focused on the shoulder joint. Dai-Sho was unable to complete its keeper's instructions, but Raph was more than able to finish the job. The construct's arm exploded, ripped right from the torso. The dwarf, too, saw an opportunity and sent an armored foot right through the mad one, hurling it into far-off rubble.

Zedd wisped in from behind, attempting to ply his studies of the golem's movement to its further destruction. He was unable to disable its legs, but the wanderer was able to escape certain doom as the golem crashed down. The Terrible Summoner, charged with a mystic energy, hurried towards the disarmed giant, but the disemboweled enemy shot open its throat and spewed a sickly, chlorinated gas.

"Oh, c'mon! I didn't think real golems actually did this!" Geirrek coughed. A spinning kick sent him away as the dark elf did not wish to discover the purpose of his spell.

The dark dragon, undetected by the clay creation, lowered itself from the ceiling silently. Its claws and pinions enveloped the construct, and, before it could react, the Nidhogg had swung their combined weight upside down, driving the armored helm into the floor with deathly force. It finally gave, and the entwined two and the weapons and all of the others fell down through several floors. Level after level, the golem was subjected to yet another layer of waiting granite, which shattered time after time. At last, one story survived, and the giant kicked free. Both were met by a pouring rain of rubble and weapons, and the drake's allies descended on whirlwind or toad or magic.

As Geirrek landed, he re-readied his magics. He cast out his unclad arm, which left the rubble shaking in its wake as he charged the prone sculpture. Its legs sprang up in defense, but did nothing to stop the spell. The thing's legs went limp and were tossed aside; the summoner's palm lay flat on the golem's chest, his other clasped firmly on his planted spear. The whole construct shook violently, the victim of the full force of an earthquake. Wretched claws dug out of the clay heart and hoisted the inhuman within out and onto the spearman. He staved the menacing monstrosity's melee with his brass-clad arm. A gust from Dai-Sho blew the little man away, allowing Geirrek to prepare another spell. Before he could finish, the dark elf swam up through the enormous, clay leg and clamped onto the summoner's foot with its serrated orifice. The dwarf's prey jabbed down multiple times, missing the creature's head beneath the armored skin. Determined to be rid of the pest, he vaulted up on his polearm, painfully pulling the earthkin from out of its hiding place. Geirrek removed the warspear and thrust it into the hideous being's chest, giving more than enough separation between him and the thing's stubby limbs.

A small trickle of blood dotted out of the steely head. That is when the cursed conjurer realized it.

"Everybody, run!" Geirrek demanded more than he ordered, steadying the spear against the violent svartalf. "Close your eyes, cover your ears, and whatever you do, don't look back." His cold gaze turned to his wyrm. "Do it," the keeper commanded.

Entropy stared back, wide-eyed. "But-"

"It's an ancient dwarf," he hastily explained over the rabid screams of the elder one. "It is living flesh and blood, not rock. Don't worry about me, just do it. Now!" The others did not have a clear idea what was happening, but the severity of his tone meant it was something awful. They did as he asked, and when at a safe distance, they didn't look back.

Entropy remained with is keeper. The Nidhogg plunged its long, bony claws right into the cold, stone floor. Its eyes disappeared into a soulless black. Geirrek made a final effort to push his weapon securely into the little monster. He raised up the dwarf, suspended by the spear, and stowed away behind the golem, fighting to keep the dark elf within the dragon's sight. The vermin's vigor died down as the room appeared to get brighter. It, in fact, did not; the darkness was gathering. All the shadows in the room formed a column before the dark drake, tracing from it to the disabled dwarf. Entropy's jaw swung open, and hellish fury was unearthed.

Nidhoggs make their diet on the dead, especially the wicked. It is the most wicked they wish to torture, for it is on the soul that the dragon feeds. All of the pain, all of the anguish, all of the evil collects within the wyrms. It is a poison most vile that this drake regurgitates; it is the essence of evil.

The arcane blast flew fast past the shadowy path. Geirrek forced his eyes shut tight, trying to ignore the torturous screams he could hear on the breath. Behind the golem, there was only fear, but no danger; only living flesh could be destroyed by the Shadow Blast. Flesh like that which once was stuck atop the warspear. Now, only chilled, engraved steel remained.

The keeper appeared to the exhausted dragon to show that he had survived. The others limped in eventually, never quite given a sign that the fight was over other than the returning silence. The apothecary cast his cursed stare upwards through the gaping levels above.

"Well, I think we have the right place," understated the spearman. "It seems they really want us dead. Who's ready to find out why?




Posted by
Zedd
on
May 20, 2006

Edited on
May 22, 2006


"I am afraid I must request some time to recuperate." Zedd stated, testing each of his limbs for breaks.

"Yeah, me too" the greyskin added.

The summoner merely looked at them, then at his own wounds, and decided that it would be a good time to do just that. He was aware, however, that whatever ruled this place would be watching them, so he bade his fellows to be quick. Zedd walked to one side of the room, where his staff had fallen, srangely intact. The freak obtained some more bombs from his rabbit. The summoner had been staring for some time at some of the 'runes' on the wall. He soon looked at the wanderer, studying the intricate lines running across his face with interest.

"I've been looking at the script of your land... It intrigues me. It looks like no other rune I've ever seen." he stated, using the rest time to also farther his formidable knowledge.

"Mayhap it is not a rune? I was under the impression that 'rune' was your land's word for script that bore magical capabilities. However, my grasp of your language is far from perfect." the wanderer returned.

"'Rune' refers to a particular kind of letter. This script," he pointed to the writing on the wall, "Is far more complex than most runes..."

Before the wanderer could continue the conversation, a loud rumble came from below the earth. Masonite dust began to fall from the ceiling, and the sound of falling stone could be heard below the room's surface.

"The castle is collapsing!" Dai-sho burst in through the room's door.

Everyone looked at the exhausted drake, but saw there was nowhere for him to fly from, all the holes and entrances being too small.

The coated one picked up one of his exploding implements, and looked expectantly at the summoner.

"If I do it and we fly out real fast..."

Geirrek looked around him, and saw cracks travelling slowly across the floor. Seeing no other alternative, he said:

"Alright then. Entropy, get ready."

The drake began to grow to it's full size, causing the already-unstable floor to buckle and heave. The greyskin attached his blasting object to the wall and ran back towards the others as fast as he could. He jumped at the dark drake just as the floor gave out. Fortunately, Entropy was already airbore, and just made it out of the blasted hole before the whole room was buried in a pile of rubble, and the castle collapsed upon itself.

As the drake ascended further, he began to weaken. His wide, swift wings beat laggardly at the thinning air, until he realised he had flown too high.

"Damn..." he muttered, between laborious gasps of oxygen-starved air.

Trying to correct himself, he began to fly acrossways and down. Unfortunately, even the dragon's epic strength could not last forever, and his wings stopped beating. Accompanied by a fearful howl from the freak, he dropped like a stone...

Strangely, he hit something very solid quite soon. As everyone leapt from the drake's back, what they had landed on became more visible.

It was the top of a castle wall.

The wall of a castle that looked remarkably like the one that had just collapsed, except strangely translucent.

The wanderer looked over the edge of the wall, at the wall, and could see nothing, not even his own legs.

"It appears to be made of some form of enchanted glass. All but invisible except to those standing atop it. I would hazard a guess that there was a form of portal from the top of the grounded castle that would lead to this one." He stated.

As the summoner stared out over glass courtyards to the castle itself, which was also made of glass, he shook his head in disbelief.

"How much magic is being used to hold this thing up, and to make it? And if there was a portal, that would be fairly draining too..." he started.

"Many, many souls will be being harnessed. That, however, is not our chief concern. That lies with the ruler of this glittering palace." the wanderer interrupted.

the freak glared at them

"C'mon, lets move!" he said, pawing the strangely cool glass, which seemed unaffected by the sun's heat..




Posted by
MadGoblin
on
Jun 3, 2006

Edited on
Jun 3, 2006


As the group departed to find an entrance, it was soon realized that their flock was short one member.

"Hey, ... um, you!" called out Geirrek to their strange traveling companion whose name still remained unspoken. "Quit holding us up, will you? We gotta get in."

"Precisely what I had in mind," cackled the fiend as he held out a hand to Flop-Hop. "Cough a lot up, boy! We're gonna make this big!"

"No!" cried out the rest of the group at once, although Zedd did not match the desperation with his tone. The Terrible Summoner leapt at the freak and tried to restrain him, keeping the explosives from being delivered to his grasp, but the wiry build of the lunatic proved hard in containing as he slid from his hold on numerous occasions. The drake assisted in his efforts, making use of arms, wings, and tail to keep him steadfast.

"You can't detonate one of those up here, let alone several," roared the dragon as the little one slipped from his claws again and again. "Are you mad, man?" Entropy briefly introspected his own query on two fronts: foolishly asking if the maniac had any sense about himself as the first and claiming him to be a human second.

"Aw, c'mon, ya guys," the tatter coated one, held secured at last, begged as his bandaged fingers stretched out to the face of his Al-Mi'raj. "This would just be so much easier! Now, c'mon, ya yeller puff. Come to papa." The advancement of the golden coney was impeded as Zedd, finally arriving at the confrontation after a slow paced stroll, braced the end of his staff on the bunny's forehead.

"Your devices could very well grant us entry into this castle of the sky, gray fool," enlightened the wanderer, "however, we would not know what other affects could befall us with such brash actions. The stability of this floating abode could be comprised. A force such as that released by your detonations could sway this mass's balance or, worse, return it to the ground, preventing us from obtaining what we desire in either case. You would also be wise to note this structure's build. This enchanted glass just may be resilient enough to withstand your blasts. Then, the only thing setting off one could accomplish is alerting them to our presence. Just the same, the opposite could occur. This glass may mimic mundane glass, and the entire compound could shatter to pieces."

"Alright then, mister smart guy," snarled the maniac through clenched teeth, "then what would ya suggest?"

A calm breeze tossed the hair of the scarred man, but the gale soon erupted violently, surrounding the throng as a whole. The whirling winds lowered onto the surface they stood upon, creating a ring of sparks as the translucent material was cut into by wicked sickles. The Kamaitachi appeared, still for once, by its keeper's side after having sawed through the glass. Moving his staff from the rabbit's head, Zedd drove the end into the ground, crashing them down below on a circular platform. It fell with a heavy thud onto the empty floor of a spacious room.

"Well, then, it would appear that I was incorrect," admitted the mystic. "It was not indestructible." Turning his view in disgust, he added, "We have already entered, fool. There is no further need for you to acquire more charges." The lunatic still flailed wildly within the spear man's arms.

"Make go boom! Big boom!" Shaking his head, the cloaked man merely picked up the horned hare to keep it out of the crazed one's reach for the time being while their new environment was studied.

"Good. This decoration looks familiar," noted the hooded man as he ran a finger over the marked wall. "It's the same type of script that was in that other fortress."

"True, but it doesn't look as refined here," stated the Nidhogg, critically analyzing it with his keen sight. "It seems rougher, more worn. I think it's... older?"

"Trivial matters such as that should not be our concern," Zedd insisted as he readied his staff. "Let us find the one we seek." Giving a nod to his weasel, the orange vermin vanished in a flash to lead their way




Posted by
MintMan
on
Jun 7, 2006


Slow, heavy steps sounded down the darkened corridor. At the end of the shadowy way, a gruesome gate was erected. Hallow, lifeless eyes stared down from the skeletal portal. The filthied bones shone through the otherwise pitch surroundings, warning the wanderer to stop. There, before the ominous arch, he waited.

"They're here," rasped a decrepit voice from the black.

"If they managed to survive," hoarsely resounded the loyal lieutenant, "my men shall take care of them."

"Oh?" piqued the unseen one. "If you had taken care of them the firssst time, your faccce would not be hiding behind that masssk." The general lifted a gauntlet to the simple, flat steel that now concealed his face -- the only part of him not scarred or burnt.

"The little one will suffer for what he did," bluntly spoke the remade man.

"Ssset assside your petty vegeanccce for now," echoed the vile voice, crawling closer and closer to the threshold. The gaunt, wretched visage of walking corpse allowed little torchlight to betray its presence. It parted its parched, dusty lips to hiss once more. "We mussst prevent them from obtaining the Key. I know far too well what they could ussse it for..."

"So what's in this treasu'e for ya?" coughed up the freak. "Ya dun 'xactly look like the fame 'n' fortune type to me."

Zedd was intrigued by this sudden interest in purpose. He thought more carefully about his words to disguise the fact that there was really no treasure, only the Key. "A magical artifact is all I seek," he simply put.

"Really? An' whazzit do?" the grayskin eagerly posed. Zedd walked on, choosing to follow his familiar and ignore the little idiot. "Well, whaddabout that guy? What's he after?"

"The same as I," the wanderer was willing to answer. "At first, we had believed each other to be this very foe we fight together against now. 'Twas only after a long battle and draw that we soon realized the mistake we had both made."

"Ah, so ya both after the same thing? Same goal?" the imp implied. "Wanna use this magic doodad for the bette'ment o' all mankind?" Again, the scarred one stayed silent. "Ya at least know what Speary McStab ovah the'e is gonna do wit' it, right? I mean, how d'ya know he ain't gonna stab ya in the back an' take it all fer himself?"

Rare was it for the fiend's words to provoke thought, but that is just what these did. The wanderer took exceptional consideration in crafting his answer. "I have as much reason to place my faith in him as he, me. We both require this artifact; I guess we have no other choice than to accept whatever risks are involved." Zedd marched onward, leaving the crazy and the coney behind in bewilderment.

"Ya hear dat, Floppy?" it cackled with a wicked grin. "Risks just happen t'be my specialty."

A turbulent wind rocked the airborne fortress and the inhabitants within.

"Y'know, Zedd," Geirrek angrily started up, "when you said that whole 'dwelling in the clouds' thing, I didn't think you meant it literally."

"I'm... sorry?" the staff-bearer somewhat apologized. "In the future, I shall try to alert you when I am speaking figuratively or not."

"That's all we're askin'," butted in the dragon, sniffing its way down the prismatic hall. "Wait," Entropy halted, "something is coming this way." Arms were taken up as the distant sound grew and grew...

"Dai-Sho?" a confused Zedd blurted out as a roaring gale blasted past the group. His head shook between the two lengths of the corridor. "Did he say anything? Did any of you get his message?"

"I think he said... 'Later, chumps,'" told the summoner.

"Hey, that's my line," the recently protruded head of Raph called out in its usual baritone. Eyes fixed down the hall, it quickly disappeared once more, giving its trademark expression as it did. "Later, chumps!" The party turned back to the narrow way. A thunder of armored steps clashed toward them. Leading the mixed, monstrous army was a familiar face, though now hidden behind a metal mask. The once shining and polished medals were tarnished; the regal cape, tattered and blackened. Patches of skin exposed through missing areas of armor were charred and pulsing. The general raised his arm and serpent and lance together, promisingly pointing at the twisted oddity, who wildly cackled at the sight of the large man.

"Oh, I'm gonna make ya sorry that ya came back t'life...






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