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Posted by
Nov 22, 2006

Zedd, from his position, sprawled and broken as the ground he lay on, suddenly broke into a rare and grotesque grin.

"What devilry is this?” the white lady cried, seeing the enemy she had so easily defeated suddenly disappear from the ground.

"Merely a diversion. Simple, but adequate." The scarred man stated as he brought his blades to bear on the woman, who had to quite ignobly drop her sacred horn in order to raise her hammer with enough speed to check his first blow. "Ah, but how do you know this is not also one such?"

As the wanderer and the lady faced each other again, the spearman and Time’s agent began yet another bout, each fighting the other as best they could. The familiars fought each other, the drake and the weasel striking out against the rabbit and the gryphon.

“Come… Back… Here!” the dragon roared, trying to catch his much faster adversaries, reasoning that if they obeyed him, he could crush them where they stood. The weasel had more luck in attacking the pair, but was also under constant assault.

"Damn… horn…" the greyskin complained, blocking with the Strong Toad before striking back with one of his lanky arms. The spearman fought in silence to all around him, save for the occasional smart remark which he could not resist. He saw an opening and thrust into it with his spear, but Grackle moved with more speed than the hooded one could predict, jumping around the spear’s head and sticking a bomb to the apothecary’s chest.

"Gaah!" the potion-maker ripped the explosive off with his gauntleted hand, hurling it at the lady with some force. The scarred man slipped out of her view just as she deflected it towards where he once stood. It flew past and exploded on a pile of jagged stones, sending shards of granite flying. Just as the mad one was about to attack Geirrek’s low guard, Zedd tapped him on the shoulder. Wordlessly, the two began to fight once again.

Examining his chest, the spearman decided he didn’t want to know quite what the bomb had been stuck with, and charged the hammer-wielder instead. With a clash of steel and magical energies, battle was joined once again.

"Excellent!" the lich hissed from his still-fallen fortress. "They fight amongst themselves!"

He turned, his face, though still frozen in the grin of death, seemingly jubilant, to the four who stood against the wall. One was the masked man. The other three were the mercenaries spoken of by the bony sorcerer. They were all ancient dwarves

Posted by
Dec 16, 2006

Edited on
Dec 16, 2006

"Repairsss on the portal," inquired the living dead, "where do they ssstand?"

"It's not yet at optimal capacity," informed an underling who cringed at the disapproving glare given by his master. "However," nervously added the servant, "it could still function. A few might be able to make it through if the gateway is not strained. Sending them one at a time-"

"Do I appear concccerned with your babble?" hissed the lich. "Do not wassste what little time I have left. Make it happen." Turning to his svartalf legion, he waved them to follow. Devilishly, the grim lord reminded them as they exited, "And do not forget to bring your toy..."

Amidst the turmoil of the battle where the four combatants and their pets struggled against one another, as the youth was not partaking, swapping between adversaries as the confusion grew, a great wind built itself up. Zedd was the only one to be alarmed at its appearance as only he could tell that it was not generated by his weasel.

"This does not augur well," the mystic spoke to himself as he blindly braced his staff against the swung horn of the yellow hare, which the bandaged freak had begun wielding as a sword. All of their shadows shifted and stretched, crossing in the center of the battlefield, as a surge of black lightning fired from the earth. The still damaged portal crackled and pulsed as the best effort was made to keep it stable. When the flash vanished, in its place stood a sight the scarred and the cursed did not want to see again nor think they would ever. The gnarled dwarf that they had killed before stood among the warring masses, wielding new displays of his handiwork all over.

"Ya see, Galy? Dem gettin' mo' zombies on yer ass," loudly lied Grackle as he positioned his rabbit atop his toad. "'Tis just one, but 'tis a super zombie, or somethin' like dat," he strung onto the deceit while he further arranged his monster cannon. "Ya can tell from 't bein' all... extra... ugly?" Not feeling any further explanation was needed to why the ancient dwarf was with their united foes, the gray fiend smacked Flop Hop on the hindquarters and sent his blasting contraption on the loose. Raph, hovering uneasily as it tried to balance the rabbit on its back, swerved and spun about as his passenger spat out explosives to be psychokinetically hurtled by the Strong Toad's powerful stare. While elaborate, the contraption had less damaging affects on the ones seeking the Key than the surroundings, which were riddled with poorly aimed craters. Grackle had lost what little of a mind it ever had.

The white maiden had focused little on the antics of the crazed being she was forced to work with. Her attention was captured by the resurrected dark elf. Its pre-existing vile nature would have deeply disturbed her, but the compounded horror of its brief stay in the world beyond cleared all other tasks from her mind. She had to smite the hellish fiend. Charging with her great hammer, a crushing blow was swung. The smith's arm rose in response as a golden arm ring glinted. In a flash, the one ring had become nine, all identical, spanning down the length of the rotting arm. The heavy head was deflected from the enchanted bands, and the wearer slid away, staring down his assailant. With a wretched shriek from its circular mouth, the spawn of Ymir flicked its banded arm to and fro, sending out a volley of golden streaks. The hurtled rings, while small, carried great force and sliced through Galatea's silver mail. Angered by the resistance of the unclean thing to accept its own demise, the lady of the Order charged as the gateway, once more, cracked open.

Cursed eyes fell upon the distant commotion as Geirrek fended off Weiss' assault, its talons braced against his spear. The apothecary watched as the newest arrival was much like the last, another svartalf, only it carried a mattock. Before the hooded man could catch a good look at the lich's latest soldier, it disappeared. It was not sent back through the portal it had just crossed, however. Before it vanished, it looked straight at the spear man with a malicious gaze. Then, the eye emblazoned upon its helmet closed, and it was gone. The summoner sadly knew that it had not left them.

"Zedd, look out," he warned his comrade while bending his neck left and right to dodge the Gryphon's beak. "That second one has an invisibility helm-" The foreigner spun around, catching seemingly nothing against his drawn swords before kicking away an unseen mass. "Well, I guess he knew." His relief was short lived as the portal energized a third time. "Oh, come on! How many of these are there gonna be?" A massive shape grew from the dimensional door, towering and jagged. Cragged rock made the skin of another familiar foe. The golem, once clay, had been rebuilt with stone. Less spectacular was only half of it being there.

"What isss the meaning of thisss?" roared the bone mage.

"The transfer was interrupted," explained the operator. "The portal was not ready yet. It collapsed. The golem was too large. It's stuck in the gateway. This was too much for-" The man began to choke as a spectral force lifted him into the air by his throat. "We... we can get it through," gasped the minion. "It will just take time." The man was dropped back onto the floor and took no time to catch his breath. He hastily began work on freeing the construct from the blocked, magical passage as the remaining two, the general and the last svartalf, waited patiently for their turn

Posted by
Dec 20, 2006

The chaotic battle had grown even more so, with the additional unwelcome partakers. Zedd tried his best to strike at his invisible opponent, while his familiar fended off the yellow hare. Geirrek looked frantically for an opening while continually avoiding the Gryphon’s attacks and the greyskin’s occasional insane charge towards his position. The white warrior was locked in concentrated combat against her wicked svartalf adversary. Perhaps the one having the easiest time was the drake, who chose to attack the stuck golem, wanting to destroy it before its full girth made it through the crackling portal. The stone creation swung at its attacker, more of its body emerging a little at a time, but the Nidhogg had the advantage of distance with its breaths.

Galatea swung again and again with her hammer at the swift dwarf, her anger and frustration increasing with each miss. Without a warning, the vile thing swung at the maiden with its other arm, sporting a deceptively normal gauntlet. She raised her hammer to block the unexpected strike, but the gauntlet hit with such surprising force that the diva was knocked to the ground. The dark elf would have taken advantage of this opportunity, but it suddenly came under assault from the air. Weiss, brought away from its previous enemy by the danger its master was in, clawed furiously at the svartalf with its talons, buying time for Galatea to get back up into battle.

The summoner, slightly relieved that his number of immediate enemies was reduced from two to one, turned his focus to Grackle. The insane being continued unpredictably leaping towards Geirrek, who only needed to move about half of the time as the greyskin missed the other half due to its dwindling accuracy. Waiting for a chance to strike at the crazy thing with his spear, the cursed one’s concentration was suddenly diverted by a call from his ally. Turning to see Zedd strangely unoccupied with battle, the apothecary instantaneously realized the impending situation and called up his magical barrier just in time to deflect a blow coming from seemingly nowhere. With the surprise attack foiled, the spearman thrust out at his adversary while the wanderer quickly struck from the back. Both attempts met thin air, as apparently the invisible elf had slipped away. In place of where they thought the dwarf was, the duo instead found a previously unnoticed bomb that Grackle had thrown into the mix some time ago. Not having enough time to aim the explosive at other targets, Geirrek quickly slapped it away with his spearhead and it exploded into the distance. Free from immediate harm, the pair switched opponents. The mystic moved to slash away at the mutant freak while the sorcerer searched for a potion that could dispel the svartalf’s invisibility with one hand and blocked invisible attacks with the other. Meanwhile, the Kamaitachi and Miraj were still fighting, although now their figures were more of an orange-yellowish blur. The weasel was growing especially annoyed that the rabbit was hitting more often than missing, and its recent successful attempt in the form of a bite on its back only added to the frustration. Flop-Hop wouldn’t let go, and thus had to keep biting down on Dai-Sho for dear life as the sickle weasel sped around and around trying to shake the nuisance off.

All of a sudden, a loud rumble temporarily grabbed the attention of all the combatants. The portal glowed and crackled brightly, finally managing to complete the transfer and getting the whole golem through on to the battlefield. Although surprising to many, the two ancient dwarves were unfazed, and the battles quickly resumed. Meanwhile, the stone construct immediately made use of its new freedom of movement and lashed out at its attacker with a right hook, catching the drake completely by surprise in the head. Entropy tried to recover from the shock, but the golem was already bearing down on him with repeated swings, effectively turning the tables on the match-up.

In the wake of the massive foe’s appearance, Geirrek noticed that the portal continued to surge with energy, signaling yet another approaching enemy. Already dismayed by the entry of so many new and familiar opponents, the Terrible Summoner abandoned his plan to thwart his adversary’s invisibility advantage and instead threw a different potion at the portal’s opening in the hopes of disrupting it and stopping the odds from turning even more against their favor. The hooded man gave a look of sheer disgust as he saw the outcome of his maneuver. An outstretched hand from the portal held the apothecary’s projectile, as the form of the third ancient dwarf gradually manifested itself on the scene. It was similar in build and equipment to its two counterparts, except that on one hand it wielded a spiked mace that was glowing an eerie red. On its contorted face was a look of pure glee as it broke out into an evil laughter and held up the potion with its other hand. The spearman had underestimated the newcomer’s reflexes.

In a sudden movement, the vile being threw the potion back with the intent of unleashing its effects on its original owner. The svartalf’s laughter ceased immediately, however, as Geirrek, in a show of his own reflexes, caught the potion with his own free hand.

“Hey, thanks!” the terrible one taunted. The smirk on his face lasted mere moments before he moved to avoid the dwarf’s swing with its mace. The third being of its kind had more tricks than a simple attack, however. As it swung, the mace’s spikes glowed brighter, broke off from the head, and shot forward in the direction of the swing. Luckily for the spearman, he had sidestepped the entire attack, but to his dismay, the evil one’s weapon seemed to grow back the spikes it had shot out. Unfortunately, as much as Geirrek would have liked to focus on one enemy at a time, he soon found himself fighting unfavorable odds again as the second and third of the lich’s mercenaries joined forces against him.

Since he was the only one remaining to get to the battle, the general readied himself and stepped towards the portal when the undead mage stopped him.

“Thossse three will sssufficcce,” it hissed. “I have a ssspecial tasssk for you.”

“But…” the masked lieutenant began, his thoughts on the battle and especially on the lunatic.

“You will have your chanccce,” continued the lich. “Later. There isss sssomething elssse that requiresss attention now.”

The general stepped back, and the lich gave the signal for the portal operator to change its destination.

A good distance away from the battle, the youth watched behind what cover there was. Free from the chaotic battle and able to observe the whole picture, even he with his simple mind could see that something wasn’t right about the fight. His allies were fighting the evil beings and the duo believed to be united to them, but the pair was also battling against those same fiends. Seeing Galatea coming close to his position, the commoner made a feeble attempt to get her attention, with no success. Sighing, the young man glanced sideways to his nearby familiar, and then up to the crescent moon in the sky, wondering how much longer it would take for the fiasco to end

Posted by
Dec 30, 2006

Deadly claws were intent on rending living flesh. The dark dragon swung its tearing talons at the pallid paladin and swatted away the small svartalfar. Galatea opposed this new villain, just as vile as the walking corpse in her eyes. Her heavy hammer thudded against the wyrm's back, still distracted by the visible dwarves. Entropy bared its fangs at the target of its newfound ire, entirely wishing it still had the strength to end this battle with its shadow magic, no matter how crude and dangerous a solution that would be. The hateful monster instead spewed a vaporous venom which the white one was quick to block, but to no avail. The poisonous, searing substance melted through her mail and began to burn and befoul her fair flesh. Her agony became apparent when her screams escaped her removed helm. She attempted to loose the rest of her armor to treat the wounds until the Terrible Summoner came to capitalize on her condition.

The common boy sat at the sidelines, uninterested in the battle, but a sudden and inexplicable blow to his familiar friend left him little choice. The youth struck in the direction of his pet, catching the unseen assailant with the axe everybody had forgotten about. Through dumb luck -- the only thing keeping this simple serf alive as long as he has been -- the embossed eye atop the now visible mercenary was cleft; a more lethal attack was readied, but the earthspawn sank into its element to escape the hefty chop. With the foe gone, at least for now, the peasant attended his downed pet. It was hardy, like the rest of its kind. It could take the punishment, but its keeper could not. The bland boy raised his dull eyes across the harsh, rocky battlefield to the sorcerer and knight, locked in combat, and then to the wanderer, engaged against a shared foe.

Grackle grasped his Strong Toad and aimed it wildly about the air, ordering psychokinetic blasts against the whirlwind weasel. The lunatic's barrage ceased once he witnessed the dullard making his way to the engaged mystic and mace wielder. The mad one, realizing what would happen, muttered some archaic curse as it bounded toward the swordsman, only to be caught in an updraft by Dai-Sho.

A fresh set of infinite spikes grew from the head of the magic mace. The drooling, oval orifice of the elder dwarf shrieked, signalling a barrage of bashes that Zedd always seemed to narrowly avoid. With a sidestep and swords drawn, the scarred man gave a finesse flick of his wrist and sheared the bludgeon's points. The cruel little monster looked down to its arm dejectedly, much to the sly amusement of the wanderer, only for their moods to exchange upon the discarding and regrowing the spiny rows atop its weapon.

"Why did you think that'd work huh huh huh?" the Kamaitachi was able to annoy its keeper, even amid its own fight. Despite these dual disappointments, Zedd remained focused on his foe. A devilish glow emanated from the malicious mallet's head, and an equally evil expression grew on the mercenary's hideous face. The traveler prepared one of his many tricks, but instead of the expected pointed volley, the twisted elf simply keeled over, sinking its entire body into the rocky ground save for the axe that now stuck from its back. The normally attentive mystic shifted his guard to its thrower, his blades trained on the neck rubbishy youth. His head would have already been loosed, but the boy stood without arms and made no motion against the swordsman. The serf's plain brown everything showed no fear or concern, even with the steel edges pressed upon his throat.

"We've got a problem," he informed calmly, causing the cloaked one to lower his weapons. Zedd analyzed the wars being waged on the field and returned his cold gaze to the youth.

"The walking dead and stone are the works of the lich; this I know," Zedd stated, fixing his threatening stare as he was not yet certain on the commoner's intent. "A general does not turn his army against itself, however. Treachery was already expected; there would be no reason for the departed legions to feign a false adversity against Galatea and yourself. Have we been two neighbors, quarreling amongst ourselves while an ill spirit is the true font of misfortune?"

"Um," stammered the simpleton, darting his eyes in such a way that eliminated any chance that Zedd would believe the boy understood a word of what he said, "we aren't with these short guys, and you don't seem to be, either, so maybe we could fight them, like, together and stuff?" The mystic only dignified the boy with a nod in response. "Really good then. Oh, and by the way, my name is," the dullard began and then realized the new ally had already vanished from his side.

"They are not agents of the lich," Zedd related to his companion when he was thrown back by the white knight. "I am afraid we have misjudged them."

"You might 'ave," Geirrek snapped, "but I didn't." The summoner lifted his unclad, bloodied arm and sent out a mighty gust, enough to give Galatea and himself some separation for the inevitable debate he would have with the wanderer. "It was pretty obvious when all the lich's forces went after 'em, too."

"You knew of their origins?" the mystic asked, raising a scarred brow. "Tell then why you found it a necessity to continue to fight them."

"Lich or no lich, they're still after the Key," the spearman told, giving a frustrated stare to the traveler. "And they still have Grackle on their side. That's just as bad." The diva was recovering and charging once again, prompting the wounded wizard to take up his polearm and brace for her arrival. She gave a full, overhead swing of her great maul, quickened by its unnoticed drop in weight; the cleanly hewn handle fell futilely on the rocky ground before her as the dangerous head plummeted behind. After making short work of her weapon, Zedd swung his steel to each of them, Geirrek and Galatea, training a point at each of their hearts.

"Maiden," the mystic address, giving no heed to his own ally he currently threatened, "I believe there has been a misunderstanding."

In a black, twisted corridor under some hellish layer beneath an island in the middle of no where, rigid, adorned spikes protruded from between wrought iron plates. They wove a maddening art about the entire warrior's body, interrupted only by the cold, black metal it surrounded. A heavy visor allowed little sight, but then there was little to see in so dark a place as this. Only the short-lived sparks of the whetstone against edge gave any glimmer into this lowest world.

"Demkore," address a metallic voice from the distance, prompting many of the readied arms strewn about the room to be taken up. The flat mask of the lich's lieutenant approached -- unseen and only sensed in the shadows. "I have been sent to recruit you."

"You must have a Death Wish, old man," rasped the black stranger with a sick glee, grinding his armaments together in anticipation. "I don't work for nobody. And I don't take kindly for askin'."

"I don't remember asking you," the general corrected, plunging his lance through a scouted chink in the warrior's full plate. Without hesitation, the masked man threw a crackling streak of lightning into his own weapon. As mighty as this Demkore's reputation was, he seemed wholly of no use to the lieutenant.

But then, he didn't need to be. A serrated blade was unsheathed, and the general approached the fresh, somewhat burnt corpse.

The man in the mask returned through the portal, bloody bounty in hand. He gave the operator orders to change the gateway's target once again. The mercenaries would be finished with their task soon...

"It's trick!" the Grackle heard the knight of the White Order exclaim. "Those two are our enemies!" she accused, aiming an armored finger at Geirrek and Zedd. A wicked grin crept over the lunatic's wretched face. The fiend cast off his toad to distract the dervish and ran to the maiden's side. The youth and the perceived enemies united against the golem, although the youth gave little to the effort.

"What's goin' on?" the greyskin pretended. "Dose guys tryin' to tell ya that they're not pure evil? They lyin'!" it protested. "I mean, lookit dat golem. It ain't really crushin' ol' blue. They're in cahoots, I tells ya! They're tryin' to trick ya! Just like I sed they would!"

"You never said that those two would pretend not to be evil in order to garner our trust," the valorous vixen corrected.

"Well, I most certainly implied it!"

"You also never told me that you wished for none to obtain the Key of Ages," Galatea went on, "including the White Order." Grackle began to spout from his endless source of deceit, but there was nothing the freak could rebut now. Weiss swooped in, clutching the gaunt thing by the wrists and carrying it high into the sky.

"Think it'll survive the fall?" Entropy wondered aloud between bursts of molten venom.

"If the Grackle manages to," gallant Galatea proclaimed, "it shall never return here by the time the Key reveals itself."

"So then," started up the sorcerer as he approached the pale warrior, "we do this together?" In a rare display, the cursed conjurer extended his hand to Galatea. The knight began to bring her hand to his but quickly recoiled, even taking a step away from the apothecary. She folded her iron mitts and cast away her shining gaze, only nodding to confirm their truce.

It was enough for the terrible one. He took up his warspear and leapt upon one of the smaller, more manageable opponents. With her hands clasped together, the silver soldier whispered an incantation, drawing a seal around the giant automaton. In defense of its brother's work, the miner scurried up on the golem's leg and sought to fuse itself inside of its chest. Geirrek warned the newfound allies that the ancient dwarf must not be allowed entrance within the stony construction.

"You have done battle with this rock man once before?" questioned the holy avenger, taking little other actions while concentrating to maintain the enchanted hold.

"Sorta," simply responded Entropy after stomping one of the svartalfar into the ground, quite literally. "It was only clay before. This 'uns a little tougher."

"However did you defeat it?" the curious crusader continued before busying herself with the re-emerging earthkin from below.

"Dropped it through a castle," the drake all too casually explained. It then attempted to nip at the constantly hiding ancients before continuing, "and then caused an earthquake." Entropy stopped to take another bite but came up only with dirt. "Inside of it," it spit out along with some wasted rubble.

"And this one is stronger?" Galatea screamed, unable to continue her spell against the statue's strength.

The zombie dug its way up from the bowels of the earth, ducking its head back in whenever the unseen sickle of the Kamaitachi attempted to remove it. The abomination dove from out the ground and into the golem's chest with reflexes quicker than all the combatants, even despite its decomposed state. Less her hammer, the white knight was left with little means of offense. She unlatched a gilded crux from her suit, however, and firmly held it forward. The Terrible Summoner, who was busy battling the other dark elves with Zedd, saw the paladin prepare the spell from the corner of his cursed eyes. A final, haphazard stab was made at the mace wielder before retreating to stop her, but all in vain. A brilliant light erupted from the symbol, directed at the construct's center. The corpse was blasted from the stony security of the golem, preventing any possible control, but it also had an adverse effect on her new ally, too. Geirrek felt the powers of the holy magic. He had collapsed, giving out an anguished yell despite being no where near the beam. Faint plumes of smoke trailed from behind the apothecary's hands, held fast against his face. The white knight could see the sorcerer prone but not what had caused him to be such.

A clawed grasp broke up through the ground and onto the apothecary. His gauntlet took hold back and ripped the dwarf from the wasted earth, bringing its beady black eyes before his blue burning stare. It swung its pick from beneath the rocky cover, catching the conjurer in the arm. A trickle of blood traced down the blade and stained his tunic, but the spearman only tightened his brazen grip and contorted his hateful gaze. The creature snapped its toothy maw at the summoner's jugular, missing only as the dragon keeper rolled away. The mystic waited above with twin blades drawn and descending, biting only the freed mattock. With a twirling parry of its tool, the stealthy svartalf drew away the wanderer's edges and returned to its feet. Letting out a chaotic shriek, the dwarven ancestor raised high its arm, illuminating previously hidden runes inscribed along its haft and head. All foes gave way, but the mercenary did not even attempt to reach them as it plunged the pickaxe straight into the ground. The land exploded, giving rise to a fissure that unbalanced even the blacksmith's sturdy toy. The faltered base had no adverse effect on the wind weasel, however, and Dai-Sho picked multiple strikes against the black elf's spindly arms. One final precision blow loosed the adze from its wretched grip and before the summoner. Ere it could slither to the sorcerer, the magic mattock was already in hand, still red and wet. Geirrek's expression, still a mask of burning hatred, pierced through the miner. The apothecary lifted the artifact, threatening not a blow but to turn its power against its owner.

The dark elf gave a crude, mocking grin as best it could with its deformed maw. "Fool," the behelmed dwarf half-gurgled, half-hissed in a nearly unintelligible manner, "you shall never know my powers." But the terrible one had seen enough. The dead tongue rolled from out his lips. The archaic glyphs burned a horrible hue in harmony with the caster's eyes. As quick and agile as the creep was, it was simply too far away to reach Geirrek before the pick reached the ground. The already devastated world tore open, crumbling beneath the dwarf and the spearman's allies as well. Rocks and boulders were thrown up from below, through which the swarthy sprite passed no more difficultly than rough waves on the sea. The svartalf swam slowly through the barrage, twisting its inhuman face as it approached. The apothecary abandoned his attack on the earthspawn and flung the pickaxe at his true target. The heavy head spiraled through the air, still glowing with all its enchantment, finally finding rest in the golem's side. Bouncing up to the sorcerer's back, the rotten progeny set its claws within the human's hood and raked his throat. It knew full well that the earthwork machine would be lost, but then again, it was not their mission to stop the group from attaining the Key. It was only the Blade of Ages they were charged with preventing, and they still had orders to carry out.

The implanted mattock began to shake more and more as more skin was scraped from the Terrible Summoner. Galatea shed a banishing light on the wicked spirit, flooring both ancient and apothecary alike. The three dwarves retreated to their earthen abode when they detected that the golem's end was nigh. Enormous segments of the walking statue were broken off; it even lost a limb before violently exploding, impacting a dent in the very ground on which it stood. A protective boon cast by the pallid paladin had spared Galatea and her allies from rocky shards. When all were safe, she ran to the side of the sorcerer and flipped his unconscious body. The white knight gently placed an unclad hand to his crimson neck and concentrated, focusing her curative magics. The spearman stirred, not just from a return to health, but in throes of pain. His beaming blue eyes opened, scaring away the silver solder. Geirrek, rubbing his sore neck, dragged himself back to his feet while taking in the empty battlefield with his glowing gaze.

"They are all gone," the virtuous vixen update. "It looks like we won." She beamed a cautious smile; the emotion was there, but she was afraid to show it. "And all we had to do was unite our strengths in the fight for good."

Geirrek continued to look about, expecting some sort of opponent to appear before the Key of Ages at long last appeared. "Yeah, I guess we did do it," he admitted. "Ya see," the apothecary turned to his old partner and stated, "I toldja the only thing we needed was some more team members. That fixed all of the problems." He looked back to the valorous one and extended his friendship once more, met again only with the lady of the Order's slight cringe. Geirrek dropped his hand, giving an unusual half-hearted smile -- not the haughty, sardonic smirk to which Zedd and Entropy had grown accustomed, but one devoid of any joy, put on for show as a sign of acceptance.

"I understand," the cursed summoner assured the slightly frightened knight. Geirrek lifted his arm and summoned a sphere of frost. From it, a lance of cold flew forth and through the unsuspecting paladin. The icy spear drove the diva backwards and pinned her to the ground. The iron maiden had been pierced cleanly through her armored chest, which did little to halt the icicle missile. The others stood in utter awe, including Entropy. So swiftly had events transpired that the Terrible Summoner was still frozen in his attack pose, the frost not even melted from his fingertips.

Grubby hands from the ground greedily grabbed her corpse and carried away. A deadly grasp secured the golem's heart, still in one piece. The commoner chased after them, completely ignoring the conjurer, but a gateway made for their all too hasty retreat. The peasant had no choice but to join the others in their bewilderment.

Zedd put his scarred sight against the murderer. "That," he began to rationalize, "is not Geirrek."

"No," the drake denied, as his familiar knew a truth far more disturbing. "That is Geirrek." The wyrm lumbered its way to its master and reluctantly turned to the others, flashing an emotionless grimace. The apothecary raised his armored mitt to the Nidhogg's head and rested it there

Posted by
Dec 31, 2006

Off some ways, majestic wings soared through the sky, carrying a cargo less spectacular.

"Ya damn mongrel," shouted the bandaged freak. "Get yer filthy, cross-bred claws off me before I rip yer species apart by hand!" His idle threat was responded with a puff. The sound was similar to opening an old, empty box with a gust of fresh air entering its dusty interior, lifting out a cloud of particles. "Dat couldn't be good," noted the maniac as he felt himself released from Weiss' hold. The beast had not loosened its grip but merely ceased to be. "Crap, dey killed her dead," realized the gray one as he sank through the air like a less graceful rock. Crashing into a cliff side, his face tumbled against boulders and jagged rocks, flying off of them in mighty bounces, until he was catapulted onto an outward facing branch. The limb skewered his torso, dangling it upside-down as he could only scream in agony. Once the yelling stopped, his body sank, ripping further into his flesh. The process slowly continued until it ran its course through. Free-falling once more, his descent was halted as he was snagged midair. A dangling bandage had been caught on the most loathed branch and hung him like a piece of meat.

"Well, ain't dis just wonderful?" muttered the lunatic as he dangled in twine. "How could dis get any w-" He stopped himself from uttering the phrase, not wishing to invoke that evil upon himself, but it was too late. The cry of vultures could be heard in the distance, approaching. "Craaap."

"You... you killed her," the youth went over in a hushed voice, over again to no one at all. The words simply passed his lips, and after none of the times could he accept the truth. Ripped back into the cruel reality, his ax was drawn and held towards his once ally. "You guys said you were the good guys," he retold. "You said I could trust you. Good guys don't kill people." His threatening stance shifted between the summoner and the wanderer, who was in just as alerted as a state as the serf.

"I can explain his actions with no more certainty than you are able to," Zedd stated in a level headed manner, even under the circumstances, with his twin blades drawn. A point was aimed at each of the others. "I assume there was a logic behind his course of actions."

"Of course," calmly insisted Geirrek, rubbing his dragon's head. He was the only one not on guard. "I had no choice."

"I had predicted a more stable line of reasoning from you," admitted the foreigner, quickly losing all confidence he once held in the terrible one.

"She failed the test," explained the apothecary with a lowered head, his eyes hidden beneath a sunken hood. "If it was her fate to be slaughtered by my hands, then I couldn't change it. There was some reason I was going to kill her, and I'd rather not have her around long enough to find out just what that was gonna be."

"You speak of your deed with no regret," scolded the mystic. "Your feat was cold-blooded murder, supported by no claims but a guess. How can you live with this decision?"

"It's 'cuz of my decisions," the spearman reminded as he pulled out his weapon, "that I'm even alive now." His cursed stare shifted from the familiar traveling companion to the newer. "Tell me, lad, what do you see when ya look into my eyes?" The boy was not attentive to his rekindled enemy's speech and threats as his neck was craned back, taking in his environment with a dropped jaw.

"Guys," he called out, ignoring their rivalry for if just a moment, "where are we?" The two searchers for the Key were startled to learn that the battle scarred, rocky terrain where they had previously been was gone. The sky had been replaced with a black, starless void. Clear, glass tiles engraved with intricate designs made the floor of a hallway with no walls or ceiling. The blackness from above extended in all directions around and beneath them. There was nothing else outside the suspended, translucent walkway.

"The Key," whispered Zedd, before returning to a regular volume. "We were at the required destination when the time approached. It was not to reveal itself to us," told the mystic. "It delivered us to its abode, a realm outside of time."

"You got all that from a floatin' floor?" blurted the mundane peasant, shaking his head. "Jeez, you're full of it."

In the dank halls, the portal operator channeled through the dark crystals set before him. The masked general appeared within the station, returned from his bounty.

"Did you secure the Death Wish?" the minion was obliged to ask. A bloodied bag was lifted over the faceless man's head as proceeded down the corridor. "That looks like more than was ordered," puzzlingly pointed out the operator.

"I got some extra," the ravaged warrior called back, not deterred from his destination, "in case we had any leftovers."

Continuing, he arrived at the lich's workshop, a macabre chamber that reeked of death and blood, a stench foul enough to be associated with pure evil. His long stride carried him past the svartalfar triad, already fast to work on rebuilding their toy with an even stronger body, placing its recovered core within an iron framework. A team of godless surgeons were stationed at a far table, stitching together remains. The lieutenant pushed his way betwixt them and spilled the sullied sack onto the slab.

"Hm," grunted masked one, "my scraps look to be in better condition than the base." An eyeless stare was aimed at one of the arcane doctors. "Will you be able to finish?" The twisted being gave a silent nod. This was all he needed to know. With a sweep of his cape, he left them to attend more vital matters. The butchers, with their new parts, busied themselves with cutting and stitching, refining their latest abomination. Another carver rejoined the group, carrying with itself a murky jar. Reaching into the mire, its clawed hand retrieved a slime covered eye and positioned it on the corpse of Galatea.

The trio circled about each other again with edges trained against their adversaries. The initial shock of being within grasp of the Key of Ages had worn off, and now the worry of letting such a powerful artifact fall into the hands of another consumed them.

"I cannot allow this relic to pass into possession of one so cruel and heartless."

"And I can't let some shady guy who hasn't even hinted at his intent get it, either."

"I think both of you are outta your minds," whimpered the often forgotten youth. Although his voice faltered, his grip was firm and solid. "Neither of you should be allowed near it."

"Little more faith could be entrusted to you. From what meager information I have collected on you thus far, I cannot deem you a safe holder for the key."

"Yeah, get on someone else fer not talkin'. Real classy."

"Cease your petty attacks, slayer. They gain you no ground in my favor."

"Oh, shut it. You don't deserve the Key, and I doubt this joke even knows what it is."

"I know," protested the commoner quickly before being talked over once more.

"You place yourself higher than one who would produce a noble cause? Only wicked deeds you have performed, and only more cruelty and devastation is to follow. You are not only untrusted with such power but unworthy."

"None of you are deserving."

"Cram it, kid," shot the summoner to his bewildered opponent.

"I... didn't speak," confessed the peon. The hooded one clutched his head out of habit.

"Sorry," an answer came. "Not me, either." The swordsman, split between two sources, honed his blades in one direction. Between them all stood a new presence.

"None of you are deserving," repeated the being. Clear and colorless, just like the floor they stood upon, a spirit of featureless design hovered before them. Flowing robes covered its body and no hair covered its faceless head. Markings, like those on the tile, covered its skin and clothing alike. It turned about as it floated, addressing each of the three. "The Key cannot be given to beings so trifling and flawed. This lad is of common people. His destiny is not threaded with gold or crimson. Great things are not destined for him. The distant traveller, shrouded in secrecy. His reasons are beyond even my grasp. And you, the Terrible Summoner," the spirit reached and paused. "Nothing needs said on your behalf. The Key of Ages is beyond any of your comprehension. It is not a mere object but a force. It becomes part of your very mind, body, and soul. As individuals, none of you are even strong enough to hold it, but as one..." The phantom fractured, creating two copies of itself. Each faced one of the questers.

"As one, you could accomplish this task."

"As one, you become worthy of the honor."

"As one, you shall receive the Key."

A great flash came from the end of the hall without walls, and a brilliant light rapidly approached. An object defying comprehension split into thirds, passing to each one of the cleft entities.

"The roaming enigma, Zedd," addressed the first, "full of knowledge, cryptic and common. You shall be conferred upon mind."

"Child of the people, young-" A loud coughing covered up the second spirit's words and pulled the attention of scarred man and the blue garbed one. The noise was produced from a thought lost Al'mi-raj hacking up an indigestible wad.

"Flop-Hop? Raph? Your presence still accompanies us?" questioned the bewildered traveller.

"Yyyep," monotonously replied the Strong Toad. "How 'bout that?"

"Ain't you two evil?" the corpse gnawer snarled.

"That's our master," retorted the yellow hare. "'Sides, ain't you? And your master?" Although concerned with being flanked by beasts that once sought his demise, the mystic ruled it no more dangerous than turning a blind eye to the spearman for the time being.

"-shaper of earth. You shall be conferred upon body," finished the second eidolon.

"Keeper of the Cauldron, Geirrek," started the third, "whose spirit is strong enough to be," it paused in its words, tilting its head, "two. You shall be conferred upon soul."

"The Key of Ages, crux to the Treasures," cried out the three in unison as their hands were held out, "has been entrusted to you." As one, the orbs of light they carried were driven forward. A blinding flare filled the boundless black that surrounded them, washing out all of their surroundings.

"We're back," uttered the Nidhogg. Its keeper opened his eyes, finding all of them back at the rocky, crater filled field. "Someone care to tell me what the Hel just happened?"

"Our hands were forced into a compromise," rationed the outsider, holding his aching head. "Three had presented themselves to accept the Key of Ages, and none were more worthy than another..." His words went on, but they became drowned out by a rising clamor of whispers and accompanying wind. A thousand, ancient tongues raced against each other, growing to a near deafening volume. The other voices ceased speaking when Zedd did as did the breeze. "The three of us desired possession of the Key, and our wishes were granted..." Again, the noise rose above his words.

"What the hell was that?" demanded the boy, clutching a bleeding arm although his hand could not cover the entire glowing mark emblazoned upon his flesh.

"My portion of the Key, I would presume," voiced the traveller before the uproar could cover it.

"Huh huh huh," commented his weasel, "that's gonna take some getting used t-" Despite the quick speech, even the speedy tongue of the Kamaitachi could not outrace the tumult. "Aw-no-not-me-too," quickly expressed the pet, purposely placing effort into the feat for once.

"Our familiars are bound to u-" The foreigner was growing annoyed with the upheaval. A finger rubbed his throbbing temples. "I must quickly learn how to deal with this." Upon hearing about familiars, the peasant looked to his own. Alarmed, he rushed to its side, which was now stamped with a symbol much like his own only not illuminated.

"Oh, you poor thing," soothed the boy. "Are you alright?" His dull eyes drifted down to his imprinted arm and spotted the dark veins that surged from the region. "Am... I... alright?"

"You're fine," croaked the deep call of Raph. "Really." The youngster jumped back with his ax drawn, although it was pulled out in haste and had its head facing backwards.

"Relax," squeaked the horned coney. "Our keeper was a temporal agent, after all. We do know about these things. He already failed at you guys gettin' the Key, so you were meant to have it. We might as well make sure you use it right." It was difficult to feel threatened by a amber bunny, so the brown clad child lowered his guard and let the adorable beast inspect his marking. "Yep, this is to be expected. Such a powerful force needs a strong host. Since you were not it, one will have to be made." Its tiny, beady stare met his. "It's happening to them all," chirped the flowery call, unsuiting for such a grave discussion. "Can you imagine if one of you had all of it? You wouldn't survive."

"Yeah," added the baritone Stong Toad.

"Well, this is just dandy," fumed the dark drake. "First, we just had to stick with that guy until we got the Key. Now, he's is it! An' to top it off, the part you got ain't sittin' with me well." Geirrek remained silent for a while but then shook his head clear.

"Yeah, it really did a number," he feigned. "Who knew soul was so vulnerable, eh?"

"Liar," he was called. His glance shifted to the Nidhogg to ensure it was not the speaker. The truth could not be told, that he felt nothing at all

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

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