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Posted by
Jul 1, 2006

"You blasted fool," roared the burnt man, rage overpowering his words, "it may be my orders to stop you all, but my loyalties can wait." He braced the double headed weapon with both hands as a pale, blue glow washed over the spikes. "I have a grudge to settle with you, personally. The Key be damned!" The maniac chuckled to himself riotously, still managing to bound over the charging general.

"The Key?" grimaced the freak, rolling out of the way of another blow. "So, that's what ya guys were seekin', eh? Well, why dinnae ya say?" Pulling out an explosive charge from his garment, he hurtled it, horribly missing the rampant soldier. The bomb ricocheted from the wall, landing among the cloaked and hooded men. The detonation began in their midst ye ended far off down the hallway with a gush of wind connecting the two points.

"Hey, watch your aim," shouted the spear man. "You almost killed us."

"I know where I was aimin'," snapped the lunatic as he volleyed another grenade. It skipped between the legs of the captain, sliding to a stop again among the madman's companions. A mighty thwack with the head of the oversized spear knocked it far enough down the corridor to spare their lives. The edge of the explosion was still enough to knock them from their feet.

"What ailment has befallen you?" questioned Zedd, nearly putting emotion into his words. "You act as though you are intent on our demise."

"Congratulations, scholar," mocked the gray skin, ducking under another strike of the serpent wrapped spike. "I just wonder what's takin' this oaf so long to figure it out." Blinded by fury, another thrust sank the radiant lance through the arm of fiend, severing it from the body. Unphased by the loss, the oddity grabbed with his other hand the arm of the man, twisting it behind his stern. Driving talons into the back of his legs, the imp restrained the general. "Would ya be so kind as to listen to me now. Mr. Hack 'n' Slash? I'm wit' ya." Struggling against his captor, he did not know if he wanted to end the audacious nuisance or hear him out.

"What buffoonery are you attempting now?" snarled the still berserk officer.

"M' shenanigans are ended, I fret," elaborately constructed the once-thought idiot. "I no longer hafta keep up m' ruse o' incompetence."

"Say what?" the Nidhogg spoke on behalf of everyone present.

"'Tis yer mission to keep that Key outta their hands, unless I am mistaken," told the freak. "That happens to be m' responsibility as well. Had someone been more direct with what was bein' sought through all o' this sooner, and yer pretty face coulda been spared."

"You," started Geirrik, "you are... evil?"

"Oh, by no means, m' lad," quipped the maniac, releasing his hold over his new companion. "I'm the only good guy here." He looked down to his hanging stub and the disembodied limb lying at his feet. There was no blood pooling around it or dripping from the wound but only clouds of dust. Aged bandages shot out from beneath his coat, grabbing the arm and pulling it back into place. The fingers flexed as their function returned, no longer hidden by the oversized sleeve.

"What... what are you?" requested Zedd, for once at a loss for words. The maniac flashed a demonic smile.

"Why, m' boy, I am an agent o' time."

"What?" protested the mystic boldly. "You are an immortal spirit?"

"No, no, knave. Stop placing false words 'pon m' tongue," politely corrected the madman. "I am far from immortal." He shrugged and added, "But nothin's been able to end me yet. M' age escapes the grasp o' yer lowly knowledge. I have seen kingdoms fall and eras end throughout m' travels and errand. Time itself has entrusted me with keepin' the Key outta the hands o' scoundrel's such as yerselves. I'm no one special, though. I'm just the one who happened to be in the area. This task is not taken lightly, though. The Key's potential is greater than anyone in this room's." With a snort, he tagged on, "That we can see, at least."

"All of this time," uttered the Summoner in disbelief, "you were leading us on to meet your own goals? You were using us?"

"'Twas nothin' personal, ya see," apologized the fiend. "I didn't know if ya were the ones lookin' to acquire or prevent the acquisition. I didn't even know if ya were lookin' fer the thin'."

"Who," finally questioned Zedd, "are you? What charge do we give to our betrayer?"

"Boy, if I ever had a name, the ebb o' time has drowned more than one in its passin'

"Why not affix you with the title, 'Grackle'?" the wanderer suggested with cool resolve.

"A gray fool, eh?" laughed the newly dubbed foe. "That's bold speech from someone who only has a few moments left in one piece." Procuring a deadly unit from his stash, it ruptured midflight into several smaller piece, scattering charges about

Posted by
Jul 3, 2006

Edited on
Jul 5, 2006

There was seemingly no escape for the wanderer now. There was no chance to outrun the bombs; countless alternatives raced through his head as the weapons descended. Mere seconds before impact, an explosive array detonated, filling the visible span of the corridor behind an invisible wall that saved the cloaked man.

"What sorcery is this?!" an astonished Zedd called out. His scarred eye shifted slightly to the side and onto his summoner companion, gauntlet held forth. "Ah yes. That spell did escape my mind."

"How about you start mindin' a way for us to escape?" returned Geirrek, his eyes burning with hatred. "That little flippin' freak just put us at too great a disadvantage." With a heavy huff, he used his free hand to rummage through his pouch. "I didn't plan on having to kill him so soon."

"You knew of this fool's evil?"

"Uh, sure," the apothecary dismissed Zedd, quickly using a newly produced vial to take away the attentions. "I knew we couldn't trust that barfly, so I made a contingency plan. The fumes from this," he explained, waving the glass tube around before cracking it against the floor, "will react with an explosive material I planted on-"

A sudden boom floored the staff-bearer, knocking him into the protective barrier, and almost broke Geirrek's concentration, the only thing allowing the group to survive the onslaught.

"Fiend!" coughed Zedd, fanning away smoke from the explosion and burnt clothing. "It appears as though that Grackle undermined your plan and made your trap his own."

"Yeah, that or I used the wrong vial," the spearman muttered increasingly softer and faster, turning his attentions to producing what he believed to be the correct potion intended for the traitor. Again, he smashed the container and waited for the vapors to find the fiend, but instead, he saw similar effects as to before. After staring blankly at his only remaining ally for a bit, he blandly stated, "Well whaddaya know, he did put that stuff on you after all."

The barrier was failing. The bombing had ceased, but now a monstrous melee took place on the opposite side of the wall. Many-headed serpents unleashed countless attacks against the enchanted defense. Noxious poisons from their gaping and biting mouths crept inside their undeservingly called safe haven.

"Our time is short; our departure must be imminent!" Zedd stated without any real purpose. "On my signal, lower your shield."

"What?" an outraged Geirrek protested. "But we'll die!"

"As we shall if we do nothing," retorted the wanderer. "Now, dismiss your barrier... now!"

The cloaked one leapt forward, holding faith that the wall would no longer be there when he was. Seizing upon the confusion caused by the dropped defense, Zedd dodged between the striking serpents, tangling them among each other and their own bodily brethren. He unsheathed his blades from their unseen scabbards and made two strokes against the ground, cutting cleanly through the shimmering substance. As quickly as he had come, the cloaked swordsman tumbled back, avoiding the snapping snouts by his memory alone.

Zedd rejoined his comrades at last, who were kept more than busy with a resilient Idrus. No longer confined to just using its claws for its ally's safety, the Nidhogg spewed a boiling breath among the bestial ranks. The mysterious one motioned for his weasel to strike, taking out the legs of the largest foe. It came crashing to the floor and through the floor, weakened throroughly by the prior bombing. Geirrek attempted to free his warspear from the grip of a plummeting Hydra, which latched on tightly with both living and slowly dying, severed heads, nearly causing the Norseman the same fate as the monstrous band. Dai-Sho loosed the remaining heads on its return, allowing the group to make a hasty retreat without being followed.

The lanky fiend sank its vile talons into the wall, ready to climb its way after them, but a firm grip took ahold of its shoulder, aggressively tearing the thing back.

"Let them go," grudgingly grunted the general. "There is someone who wants to meet you now..."

"What the Hel was that?" an infuriated Geirrek bewailed, punching the empty corridor walls with his brazen fist. "We got turned on and routed by that little punk?"

"The Grackle had hidden its true nature and power from us well," narrated the wanderer while tearing off the singed bits of his cloak. "It seems that there are more who wish to keep the Key from us than once thought."

"At least that's one good thing we got from all of this," Geirrek growled, enticing a curious glance from Zedd. "We now know these guys aren't competition for the Key of Ages; they just don't want us to get it." A faint smile crept up on the blood splattered face of the terrible one. "And they can't keep us from something they don't know the location to."

"But their efforts seem so great for an effect unnoticed."

"Oh, I know exactly why they are doing this," understood the apothecary, refitting his recently shifted gauntlet. "The general made it obvious enough."

"An immortal, eh?" blurted Grackle as the burnt man led him down the dark, familiar way. "Or close 'nough to it. 'Tis no wonder ya strive s' hard to keep the Key 'way from 'em." The general simply nodded his head in agreement, keeping silent and his anger against the lunatic repressed. "Wit' it, they could unlock the eternal Blade of Ages, which'd make ya a lot more mortal," the crazed one added with a wicked, fanged grin.

The serpent-bearer stopped at the arcane archway. The sickly fiend lurched about, daring so much as to stick his wretched, pointed head within the dark threshold. His beady eyes scanned the shadows for any sign of this leader he was to meet. The imp scuttled back upon the sudden appearance of those hollow eyes and stretched skin. From his prone position, his beak clamped fast between his talons to avoid the rank odor of death, the greyskin hissed, "Whate'er are ya s'posed to be?"

"A lich," informed the Nidhogg, a specialist in corpses, while curling up its lip. "I could smell 'em on that mask-wearing crony. All the burnt flesh in Midgard couldn't cover that stench."

"'Tis two perpetual fires the Key threatens to extinguish," related the calm Zedd, resting against one of the walls while keeping watch on his side of the hallway. "More of their breed may also assist them."

"Wouldn't be so much of a problem if there were an easier way to stop them than already having the Blade of Ages," the cursed one droned. "The easiest way to get the Key is to already have it."

"Perhaps I could help?"

"Shut up," Geirrek hastily snapped, rubbing his sore temples with his extended digits. Zedd turned from his vigil, brow raised, unsure as to whom the spearman's statement was directed.

"Er, sorry," Entropy stammered as soon as it realized what had happened. Before the wyrm could bring up something else to take the focus away from that bit of awkwardness, the wanderer wondered.

"It is not the Blade you seek, is it?" asked the mystic swordsman. Geirrek shifted his blue gaze from behind his hand. "The Grackle is right in that the Blade of Ages is far too powerful a weapon for any living thing to wield. It exists throughout all times, as do its blows."

"The wounds its causes never heal, it can level mountains, and end eras of man," Geirrek peevishly finished, scowling at his partner slightly. "Yes, I have done my research on the Key, too. I know all this."

"Our quest for the Key alone had combined our efforts, but which of the artifacts you wish to unlock remains something of a mystery to me." Zedd dragged his steely eyes toward the Nidhogg and continued. "If I find your intentions with the Key to be malicious, I shall not hesitate to strike both you down."

"Wouldn't have it any other way," the summoner smirked. "So what exactly do you need the Key of Ages for?"

Pausing briefly on these words, the scarred one instead changed the subject abruptly. "With Grackle on their side, our advantage has become theirs. Sheer force will no longer suffice; we must be more clever, more calculated in our maneuvers. 'Tis two of us versus three of them, not to mention their army."

"It isss two of them versssusss the four of usss," hissed the lich, "including my loyal army."

"F'rgive any ill, ya bag o' bones, but haven't'cha heard?" Grackle started, hiding all but a glimpse of visible pleasure for breaking the news. "Yer li'l henchdwarf met a fate most unfortunate."

"Aye, 'tisss sssad that he died ssso young," the undead lisped. "But in death, there isss new life! Behold!" he commanded, motioning a gnarled, bony claw to an area now receiving a dim, magical light. "My ancient zombie!"

Jet black eyes now swirled with a milky dew of disease and death, rolling about the dark room in utter confusion. The toothy orifice, now incomplete and lolling uncontrollably open, spilling a putrid, green liquid from deep within the former dwarf. Most of the beard was still stuck to the even paler, peeling skin of this abomination.

"With thisss army of mine, they shall never live to sssee the Key!" triumphantly declared the skeletal sorcerer. "There isss nothing they can do in my abode..."

"Master!" a distant voice proclaimed, accompanied by hurried footsteps. "Master!" the soldier repeated. "The intruders, they are up to something!"

A gruesome grimace poured down the lich's face. "You two," he ordered, pointing decrepit digits at Grackle and his general, "get a troop and ssstop them at onccce! And put your petty feud assside." The masked man tightened the grip on his lance, deforming the metal around his fingers.

"C'mon, pretty boy," reassured the cruel fiend, "y'know I only made thin's better fer ya." He bounded off into the light, soon to be followed by the burning lieutenant

Posted by
Jul 9, 2006

Back in the corridor, the spearman and the wanderer had agreed on one course of action, and were currently moving with all possible speed in the direction indicated by Geirrek’s careful divination and Dai-sho’s slightly bolder scouting.

“So how d’you two know the Key ain’t in this castle?” Entropy questioned.

“Well, firstly, the lich is not so stupid as to keep this greatest of treasures in the same place he and his garrison are in. One would be able to steal it and destroy his essence in one fell swoop. That assumes that actually has it, which is doubtful. If he did have it, there would be no need for the lieutenants, or even the army…” The scarred one began.

“Secondly, an artefact of the Key’s power would disrupt the spells holdin’ this castle up. They’re pretty delicate.” The apothecary finished.

“And they’re what we’re gonna try t’disrupt. What I don’t get is how we’re gonna get offa this castle ‘fore it hits th’ ground,” The weasel stated. “The poor dudges bein’ used as power‘re a fair way inta th’ middle’ve th’ castle”.

“Yes, but the glass below is not overly thick. If we hit it with enough power, it will break and Entropy can fly us away. However, I do believe the lich has more in here than just what we have seen.” Zedd stated.

“So we’re all off ta get th’ map first. Whoop de do.” His familiar stated.

As the party of Key-searchers ran down various corridors and passageways, the general and his double-headed snake hurried to keep up with Grackle’s fast pace.

“Those two aren’t fools”, the grey one stated, “They’ll ha’ some sort o’ plan, prolly t’do wit’ the map or the ones keepin’ this castle up.”

“So if you take half our forces to the room with the power supplies in it, and I take the other to bolster the map room, we should be safe.” The big man outlined, surprisingly trusting the crazed one’s speculation of the cloaked one and the spear-wielder, merely allowing himself what was probably a hateful glare, invisible beneath the metal of his mask.

“Soundin’ good, m’pretty boy” the fiend taunted as he danced away down a different corridor, motioning half the force to join him.

“Can someone explain to me why there’s a hundred-odd maps in here all apparently the one we’re after?” The Nidhogg asked.

“Y’ expected it t’ be easy?” The sickle weasel snickered.

As the wanderer and the apothecary stared at the room-full of maps, the spearman had a sudden thought.

“These maps are all the ones they’ve been sending out as fakes. They all looked the same, see?”

“Indeed I do. Since we have proved that place to be false, that means that if we can find a different map in here, it is probably the correct one…”At that moment, the scarred one’s acute senses picked up movement some way away. “...And if you two hold off the large patrol of guards heading this way, Dai-sho and I will find out which one it is.”

“Why should you two be the ones to do the searching… Oh.” Geirrek reluctantly finished as he saw the swordsman and his weasel begin to go through the papers at a speed that he and Entropy could only dream of.

“I s’pose they think almost as fast as they move, eh?” Entropy asked as he began to grow.

“Nothing like it, but they can move…” The spearman was cut short as a huge group of soldiers led by the huge lieutenant walked into the room, and the battle commenced. Splicing the first human through the middle with his spear, he went on to decapitate an unfortunate beast before being faced with a gargantuan ten-legged bear. The Kukuweaq tried to snuff the summoner out with a swipe from one of its many legs, barely missing before being destroyed by the dark breath of the drake. The battle raged on, the cursed man and his drake somehow managing to keep half an army from passing. Exhausted, ragged breathes escaped the Terrible One’s mouth as he fought to keep a gryphon from attacking the dragon from behind, when a sudden breeze cropped up and the lion-eagle fell, cut in multitudinous places. Reinvigorated by the kamaitachi’s sudden strike, the Nidhogg and his master redoubled their assault.

“Did you find it?” The summoner yelled over the roar of battle

“We think so. Zedd’s just double-checkin’.”

As the weasel said this, the summoner began to have doubts about the cloaked man’s allegiances. As he wondered about this, despatching yet another soldier, the lieutenant made his presence felt.

“You scum will never come anywhere near the Key! Your end lies here!” he roared, swinging his lance at the Geirrek’s head, easily blocked by the apothecary’s spear. The duel went on for sometime, the amphisbaena aiding its master to overpower the apothecary until the summoner saw his chance, swinging his spear at a weak point in the general’s guard. The polearm inflicted a large gash in the side of the big man, but, seemingly unfazed, he swung a lance strike back at the unsuspecting spearman’s head.

A loud clang sounded out as steel met steel, and the cloaked one came to his ally’s side, forcing the general back with a strike from his short sword.

“If you can create a flash of some sort, we can get out of here,” Zedd came close to the spear-bearer, his voice nought but the whisper of silk on steel, “I have put a hole in the adjoining wall.”

As the wanderer moved to aid the familiars in the defence of the cursed one, who wasted no time hurling a vial beyond the three defenders. The vial burst in an incandescent flash, allowing the quartet time to beat a hasty retreat.

As the stars cleared from his eyes, the big lieutenant looked around for his adversaries. Searching through the shelves of the room, he saw the hole in the shimmering, enchanted glass. His roar of anger could be heard all throughout the castle as he saw his enemies were long gone.

“Well, boys, I was waitin’ for ye ta’ come here.” The one known a Grackle said gleefully.

“Indeed?” the cloaked one stated, going into a battle stance, looking around the roomful of bodies in oddly glowing vats.

“This one’s ours, wanderer,” calmly stated Geirrek, “Between us, we've got far more brute power than you two.”

“Very true. No doubt you also know how to disable this soul-draining nightmare. We shall cover you. Come, Dai-sho.”

The cloaked man and his familiar began to cut into the platoon, immediately killing a soldier and aiding each other to completely decapitate a hydra. Unprepared for such a sudden assault, the army paid no attention to the efforts of the summoner and his drake, until the grey fiend yelled:

”Ignore ‘em, y’fools! Can’t ye see that they’re merely a diversion!?”

The battalion of troops, as one, saw the threat of the arcane one and his familiar, and began to move towards them.

“Well, our primary ruse has failed. I see no other alternative. Come, Dai-sho, for this be the dance of death!” the mystic cried.

With this, the kamaitachi joined with his master in a whirlwind of destruction, both ignoring fatigue as best they could, as they formed a deadly parody of a ballroom dance. As the freak saw that they were, somehow, holding back his whole army, he began hurling bombs towards them. Zedd, seeing this, had an idea on the spur of the moment, and hastily deflected the explosive into the midst of the horde. As each bomb flew towards him, he somehow deflected them into the same place, causing a larger and larger hole to develop. As the hole grew larger, the maniac saw what was happening, and threw a bomb that would have destroyed both master and familiar had a gale-force wind not suddenly erupted inside to blow it away. The Terrible Summoner stood from his task, a look of grim satisfaction on his face. The vats had begun to glow less brightly, and the castle was losing altitude.

“C’mon. We’ve gotta get outta here!” Entropy yelled as the last bomb exploded where the others had, blowing a complete hole in the floor. As the great dragon flew towards the hole, wings outstretched, the platoon parted, and Zedd jumped on board, soon followed by his familiar. Barely escaping Grackle’s parting missiles, the drake flew through the massive hole, just clearing the castle as it began to drop like a stone.

As the castle fell, and the drake’s wide, swift wings carried the key-seekers away, the lich screamed a spell, his last resort. All the runes on the castle walls began to glow, and the castle’s descent slowed until it struck the ruins of its earthbound likeness with less force than a falling feather.

“We will have them yet!” The lich’s threat resounded through the surrounding land

Posted by
Aug 12, 2006

"Back where we started," moped the spearman, passing through the tavern's entrance.

"I would not interpret our situation in that manner, summoner," enlightened the mystic who followed in behind. "We now have acquisition of the map we have sought for so long."

"He meant spatial, fop," snapped the dragon as it wedged into the doorway giving the barkeeper a wink as he cleaned up bullet busted furniture. The owner was about to protest their entry but silenced himself upon recognizing them.

"So, let's have a look at his map you found," blew Geirrek as he slumped into a wobbly chair missing its back. "Then I'll be able to tell how fake it is." The parchment was unraveled upon the table with its two ends pinned down by daggers. The terrible one laughed. "You're joking, right? You thought this was the map we're looking for? This isn't even a map of anything! I do not know what world is shaped like that, but those shore lines do not exist."

"The map's greatest protection is its own deceit," foretold Zedd. "The outward eye would easily dismiss such as a forgery where the truth is held within." The hooded man's mouth was opened but refrained from moving. "The potion of revelation, please." Skeptical of his companion's intuition, the small vial was pulled out carefully, all the while delivering a harsh stare.

"Just... one drop," the drake's keeper requested. "I want there to be enough left to decrypt the true map."

"You believe things are far simpler than they ever will be," enigmatically stated the traveller as he let a single drop of the elixir fall onto the charting. As the liquid struck, it splattered into a small circle, fading away what image lied beneath it.

"Terrific, it ate the map. Now we know what else this liquid can be used for if we never find the real one." The scarred one ignored the comment, staying focused on the wet spot. Curious, Geirrek returned his gaze and was startled. Where the drawings had faded, there now were parts of letters, but nothing could be seen fully giving the selective location.

"The text on the map," the foreign explained, "is what we have been seeking. The map itself matters not." Spilling out the remainder of the bottle, the rivers and mountains were replaced with letters and words, a copious amount that covered the whole sheet.

"What is this? Instructions on where to find the Key?" questioned he with eyes of prophecy.

"Why do you never take heed of the lessons I pass on to you?" Shifting his eyes back downward, the cloaked one spoke regarding the text. "These are a series of riddles. Each one is written in a different tongue. Each one will bring us a step closer to the Key. These glyphs come from around the world. The Ancients did well to secure the Key from unworthy hands. To our fortune, I have trekked far beneath this sky and recognize many of these arcane symbols." A hand passed over the lines with his words.

"Well, this one uses the runes from my North," boasted the man from beneath his hood. "That only leaves one verse..."

A wind blew outside the tavern. In it, Zedd felt a disruptive presence. His heightened senses cringed at the arrival, yet he hid it from his outward appearance.

"The winds carries a stranger," stated the swordsman, "one we have not met before." The spearman's curiosity was piqued, but, more so, was his caution as his hand gripped his polearm. Even the less acute summoner could hear it now, wings soaring through the air. A harsh plummet sounded from the pub's front. From the corners of their eyes, the pair warily watched the door. Clanks of metal approached the door, which slowly opened before an outstretched hand, wrapped with a band of white silk. The individual entered in a fashion to not draw attention, but, seeing as the bar was abandoned, the tactic failed. Barely passing through the doors behind the lightly armored knight strode in a gryphon sporting a saddle and stirrups. The majestic beast pieced the tavern's keeper with its regal stare, stopping him from kindly asking them to leave while repairs were underway. From the thin slit on the visor, the soldier studied the grouping at the table. Upon the Nidhogg raising himself onto the top, there was an exclamation.

"So it is you, the ones from the castle." With a heavy hammer in hand, they were approached by the rider and hybrid but tried not to notice, keeping on guard. Without even the summoner noticing, the map had been removed from the table by Zedd. "I saw your drake carry you from that falling castle in the sky."

"... And?" apathetically answered its master. The silver helmet was removed.

"I know why you were there. You were after what I, too, am seeking," she told. "I have been tracking this thing for months, and, upon finding the location, I set out immediately. You can imagine my surprise to find it had already been destroyed." Her audience was taciturn. The valiant diva continued, despite their lack of interest. "Were you able to get what was needed from the lich?" They reacted slightly to these words. Until now, she could have been an eagle-eyed bystander or swindler, but this was a display of actual knowledge. "From the sources I have, it was determined that the fiend housed the 'map' in his fortress."

"Excuse me," spoke up the scarred one, "but who may you be?"

"I am Galatea, of the White Order, charged with discovering the..." her bold declaration faltered as she hushed her tone. "... the... Key of Ages. I am most certain you seek this as well?"

"Little girl," addressed the solemn man, "I do not think-"

"-we could proceed without you," cut in the spearman. "What would be the odds that we would encounter another questing for the Key. It is like when you and eye met, except we only expected foul play from each other." He glanced over to his companion with a certain intent in his eyes. "Come, let us welcome our new ally in the fight for good." Facing back to the heroine, Zedd lined his eyes to hers. As his mouth opened to speak, words did not leave it but a green mist. The viscous substance stained and stuck to her face. Without a moments notice, the apothecary sprung forward, driving his spear handle into her gut. Her loyal pet attempted to aid her, but as it leaped into the air, the very matter lifted it up in a spinning column. As the invisible vermin pinned the lord of the sky to the ceiling, a burning blast from the jaws of death sent it through the roof. Delivering one final blow to the back of the woman's head, the two pairs fled the bar.

"Were we honestly suspected to fall for such a ploy?" asked Geirrek. "We already had the wool over our eyes once by someone 'helping' us. I'm surprised they tried to fill in the role of saboteur so quickly."

"The meeting was highly suspect," agreed the cloak wearer. "We must make certain to avoid all others from now on. Each of them is a possible threat to our task."

"Are you alright?" a deep voice questioned between applications of wet cloths. "You got pretty bruised up, but there's little bleeding." The warrior woman pushed aside the barkeep and staggered to her feet. "Hey, now, take it easy," he insisted. "You may be from the White Order, but you're still human. You need rest. I have some rooms upstairs. Feel free to make use of one."

"I appreciate the offer," she thanked. "At least someone acknowledges the efforts of my guild." She stared harshly out the door, fury burning inside. "I'll admit I had them read wrong. Here, I thought they were like me, but, it seems they were with the enemy. I won't make this mistake again. Upon our next meeting, they will be vanquished...

Posted by
Aug 17, 2006

Geirrek and Zedd had sought refuge in a forest just outside of town. They could travel no further until nightfall. If the supposed spy sent after them had a gryphon, then the group could be seen from any distance flying in the clear sky, but in the thick of the woods or of the night, they would be safe. Walking would be a waste of their more than spent energy, so the band readily accept the rest this situation offered. The time could wisely be spent deciphering the map or discerning much-needed answers to the riddles, but instead, the summoner sat removed from the scarred one, plotting more pressing concerns to him.

"We have to ditch him," coldly stated the Terrible One. "We have the map; we can do the rest on our own."

"He has the map right now," growled the drake, rolling a bulbous eye toward the wanderer, sufficiently far enough that even he could not overhear their conversation. "'Sides, we are gettin' low on numbers, and the bad guys just keep gettin' stronger and stronger."

"He could be one of the bad guys," Geirrek attacked his pet. "We don't know his motives. We could be doing the world a favor by getting rid of him." His cursed gaze shifted inconspicuously to the two a distance away. "There is no reason to trust him."

"There is no reason to trust you, either," rationalized the wyrm.

"I trust me," retorted the spearman. The dark dragon gave a solid stare to the summoner. "Well, most the time."

"Yer just afraid he's gonna find out, aren'tcha?" argued the Nidhogg as it took back its evil eye.

"We don't know anything about him," quickly countered the cursed one. "The more we fight, the more of those strange powers he shows off. It ain't natural. He's into some pretty arcane stuff."

"Said the Terrible Summoner with a pet Nidhogg," mockingly responded Ragnarök's drake, raising a scaly brow to further demonstrate the absurdity of his keeper's statement.

"He wants the Key!" Geirrek returned, unintentionally raising his voice above the hush they had been keeping. After realizing this, he stooped back down to his pet's level, whispering again, "And he is being all too hush-hush as to why. Do you have any idea what he could do with the weakest of the artifacts the Key can unlock? Let alone of the Blade of Ages? It is one of the strongest spells known to exist. What reason could anyone have to want it other than destruction?"

"And what reasons do you have?"

"And," his apocalyptic ally started, "what reasons do you have?" The apothecary stopped dead when the heard the words repeated, rubbing his temple with his unarmored hand.

"What did I tell ya?"

"How bad isss the damage?" hissed the skeletal figure, safe within shadowy crypt.

"Our fuel room is entirely fragged," announced the lieutenant as he crept closer to the dismal threshold. "What equipment that lunatic didn't ruin, the crash did. We won't be airborne for quite some time."

"Never mind that!" the lich dustily wisped. "What about the cccellsss?"

"Minimal damage," reported the lancer, his grotesque visage contorted into confusion beneath his metal mask, "but they won't come back here now."

"Open them and sssuit them up," commanded the undead overlord, "and bring me any bodiesss ssstill in one pieccce. We shall need an army."

"But sir," interjected the burned one, "we are immobile, and there is no way to know just where they are." The darkness was filled with a deathly silence. The monster turned away, fuming in an enraged plot for both revenge and to save his own unlife.

The shrill crack of the sorcerer's voice broke in. "I do believe there isss a portal no longer in ussse. I would like to find one." A wicked smile grew over his grey, parched lips. "The Grackle can bring it to me."

"It is no where to be found," revealed the charred warrior. "I wish that freak to be dead, but I doubt it could be stopped so easily."

"Then where isss it?" yelled the lich, filling the glass halls with is demonic scream.

"It was so fortunate to meet you at that tavern," Galatea thanked her new traveling companion, striding aside her mount to rest its wings. "The White Order's forces are stretched at the moment. Otherwise, I could never risk the life of a commoner. Well, you are not exactly 'common,'" she corrected, giving a sideways glance through her long white locks. "No one with a familiar is, especially one so... different," the white knight finally found the right words. Her eyes went off the unusual creature of which species she refused to admit she did not know and onto the youth besides it, unarmored and unarmed save for a simple ax, more of a tool than a weapon. "Is your father okay with you coming along?"

"Huh? Oh, sure," lied the young man, scratching his plain brown hair. It was not what his father said which he lied about but rather who he maintained his father was. "Those goons left the inn in such bad shape, y'know? He'd be glad if I, y'know... got some money from 'em or somethin'."

"'Tis more than taverns you must worry about," gallantly warned the guild member. "These two threaten the safety of every man, woman, and child in the world!"

"Oh, wow," stuttered the surprised ax man with wide, dull eyes, wringing his hands along his flaxen tunic. "That's, like... bad an' stuff."

"'Stuff' indeed," the peeved paladin let out, pestered slightly by her choice in this comrade. However, his simple origins made it extremely unlikely that he could have any ulterior motive, a prized attribute in this particular quest.

"Well, fr'm what I heard in town," started the clueless man, attempted to show otherwise, "yer all after the Blade of Ages, right? Even us folk've heard of it. Some sorta magic sword, right?"

"A spell, actually," Galatea clarified, feeling that some explanation was due to the one risking his life for her cause. "It is one of the Four, the most destructive spells known to mortal and immortal alike. One exists for Light and Dark, Time and Fate, and each is powerful in its own way. The Blade exists throughout all of time, thus allowing it to slay those who live outside of it: immortals and the like. The White Order has charged me with retrieving it."

"Well, this one seems like a lotta trouble? Couldn'tcha just go after one of the other spells?"

She let out a deep sigh. "Unfortunately, no. The Whisper is an immensely powerful cleansing spell, but difficult to control. To even know the spell could mean death. If it could be found, there is little chance we would survive the experience. Wyrd Venom, aside from erasing the past and future of its target, also rewrites all hints as to how it was found.

"The Blade of Ages, however, must be earned. Only those worthy to wield it may find it, and the Order is certain that it is needed now more than ever before. So you see, I must find it."

"Wait, that was only three," realized the dullard, scratching his mess of hair and looking at three raised fingers with his free hand. "Shouldn't there be a fourth one?"

"The spell of darkness," she muttered in a low voice. "The Order would never stoop to using any of the black arts, let alone the blackest. Even the vilest of magicians would never use that one."

"Why? What's it do?"

"It has never been used," Galatea was quick to inform, "but it is assumed that it undoes creation."

"Oh," the shocked youth exclaimed in a fashion that still oozed of apathy. "I guess you wouldn't wanna do that, huh?"

"No, undoing creation is a bad thing," the valorous vixen enlightened. She then tossed her head side to side, looking for something or someone. "Did you get all of that?"

"I heahd ya!" snapped a gritty voice from the rear, followed by several curses beneath its breath.

"Are we boring you?" defiantly posed the silver maiden, pausing her procession for a moment.

"Nay, nay. I jus'... I jus' wanna git those two," explained Grackle. "We cannae let 'em git to da Key first.

** There is still more to this story. Continue to the next page. **

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