Run, Sydney, run. You will be ours in the end - Romeo Guildenstern
Ashley had, at some point, left the wine cellar behind. He stood now in what he surmised to be part of the ancient catacombs of Leá Monde. The room he occupied now was long and narrow, the walls, like in the cellars, made of rough stone. Cut into the rock walls surrounding him were niches, and within those niches lay the yellowed bones of humans past. This had obviously been a place of ceremonial burial, as he could see the dead had been buried with most their possessions. Curiously he approached the nearest scattering of bones. There were still pieces of tattered cloth wrapped around them, most likely the remnants of a burial shroud. Silver and gold jewellery, tarnished badly from the centuries spent here, lay in a pile beside the skull. A glint of metal caught his eye from beneath the mound of fabric and jewellery, and very carefully he picked through the assorted necklaces, earrings, and bracelets to find an ornate silver staff buried beneath.
He lifted the staff from the niche with a low whistle; there was no mistaking that it was a fine piece of equipment, for even after centuries lying unused it still gleamed brightly. It wasn't long, the length of his arm at the most, but as Ashley swung it about experimentally he marvelled at how well balanced a weapon it was. The top curved slightly, forming a slight hook, and the entire thing was highly polished, gilded with gold, and inlaid with small twinkling gemstones around the grip. His eyes caught sight of something along the hooked part; he raised it and strained in the light to see what it was. There was lettering, faint and spidery, and though it took him several moments he was able to make it out.
Magnolia Frau, he read. He discerned that this was the name of the weapon, and he did not hesitate as he slipped the slender rod through a loop at his belt. If the rest of Leá Monde was anything like the area he had already traversed, he would be in need of quality weapons. Besides, he mused as he left the niche and headed for the door opposite the one he had entered, the dead had no use for arms.
The moment he stepped through the door into the next room, he caught sight of the Knight slumped against the side of a marble funeral bier, one of the many that cluttered the chamber. His armor was crimson, and the Riskbreaker realized it was covered entirely in blood. The Knight's face was pale, deathly so, and Ashley swiftly went to him and knelt at his side. The Knight slowly lifted his head and focused through hazed eyes on the Riskbreaker.
"Ur ... I ... I b-beg of ye ... sss ... stop the ... pain." His words were slow, rasping loudly throughout the stillness around them.
Ashley leaned closer, but before he could speak the Knight began to cough, great hacking coughs, and blood flew from his mouth at the force of the exertion. Abruptly the coughing ceased, and the Knight's head fell heavily to his chest. Ashley did not need to examine any further to know that he was dead. He drew back, startled, as a sphere of white, shimmering energy escaped the Knight's corpse, hovering for a moment. The ball drifted upwards, and still watching it the Riskbreaker took a few steps forward.
At the sound of armor clinking he twisted swiftly around. The body of the Knight was moving, slowly and steadily getting to its feet. At full height it stood still for a moment, the helmeted head lolling back and forth. With a moan of what sounded like deep anguish, the corpse came at Ashley, bringing the long sword it still clutched up to bear. Shaking off his astonishment, the Riskbreaker back-pedalled hastily, putting space between them. He clamoured quickly onto one of the funeral biers and removed the Magnolia Frau from his belt. Of all the weapons he carried, he knew it would fare the best against a creature such as this. The Knight's corpse was still coming towards him in a shuffling walk.
"Is this some magick, or merely the power of Leá Monde ... ?" The Riskbreaker wondered aloud.
When the undead creature was within striking distance, Ashley attacked. From where he stood on the bier, he had the advantage, and his enemy moved quite slow. Lashing out quickly, he struck again and again with the staff until finally the corpse dropped to the ground and dissipated in the same manner the minotaur had. The Riskbreaker executed a smooth, twirling movement with the staff, admiring the balance and the sturdiness of such a delicate weapon. He then secured it once more on his belt, hopped down from the bier, and strode to the next door.
As the door shut behind him with a booming echo, and his eyes struggled to adjust to the dim light, a deep moaning began. Three corpses, all of them Knights, were scattered on the floor here, and as he watched they too climbed to their feet and shambled towards him. As he gripped the Magnolia Frau and brought his small shield before him, he muttered, "Is this, too, a part of your game, Sydney?"
Beneath the streets of Leá Monde, the dead walked.
Callo and the others had encountered the zombies only briefly, when they had entered a room full of them. They were not all Knights; some of them were bodies that had lain decomposing for months, and others were only the skeletal remains of some unfortunate visitor. It didn't matter, not to Callo. They terrified her. Sydney had made quick work of them, dispatching them all with a spell of flames and heat. As the walking corpses dissolved, their dying wails sent shivers down even Hardin's spine. Joshua had become deathly pale at the sight of such hideous monstrosities, and it was only because Hardin remained close beside him that he had not fainted from fear. After Sydney had dealt with the undead, they swiftly fled, running into a chamber that was by far the largest they had encountered yet within this forgotten dungeon.
"What the devil were those ... creatures? And where are we?" Hardin asked, staring round the circular room. He was holding firmly onto Joshua's hand.
"They were the living dead, Hardin, their bodies taken over by the Dark. And we are still on course." Sydney replied, heading briskly towards door carved in the stone on a ledge reachable only by rough hewn stairs.
"Are you certain you kn-" Hardin began, following the prophet, when the sudden trembling of the room around him interrupted.
The shaking was intense, enough that it sent Sydney staggering into a wall and Hardin to his knees. Behind them all, Callo struggled for balance with her hands tied as the ground beneath her heaved and bucked. Joshua screamed as pieces of rock were abruptly thrust up through the floor, and the room began to reshape itself. Callo stumbled towards the others, shouting, but fell backwards as the ground rose before her, effectively cutting her off. The shuddering was causing pieces of the roof to fall, and Callo scampered to the side to avoid being flattened beneath an enormous slab of stone. The quake intensified then, and she could only curl up protectively and hope she would survive as the earth around her was torn apart and remade.
The trembling slowed, and then faded all together. Hesitantly Callo raised her head from where she had buried it in her knees. What she saw elicited a cry of dismay.
What had once been one room had been effectively halved by jagged rock pillars. Walls had fallen away, and where she was now was a mess of cliffs and ledges and uneven ground. What caused her heart to stop momentarily, however, where the two figures not far from where she sat now. Deep, rumbling groans filled the air, and with fear unlike she had ever known before, Callo realized they were aware of her.
She scrambled to her feet, trembling. They were close enough for her to see what they had been in life; their armor and plumed helmets identified them as Crimson Blades. One held a polearm with a barbed tip, the other a hand axe. The polearm Knight's head was bent at an impossible angle, and Callo could clearly see the spine glistening through the red ruin his neck had become. The axe knight was missing an arm as well as half of his face. Something was dripping off of his body, something thicker than blood, and Callo swallowed in disgust as she backed steadily away. The reek of rotting flesh and other unpleasant things was heavy in the air; it was all she could do not to gag.
Suddenly she felt a cold hard surface at her back; she had worked herself into a corner. The undead Knights were closing in on her steadily, moving slow because of all the rocky upthrusts and ledges. Callo eyed her surroundings, fighting against her terror which threatened to so easily overwhelm; straight ahead of her was another ledge, this one higher than the others in the room. She wondered if she could reach the top if she had a running start, and then realized she really had no choice. One of the undead moaned and the loud sound, so close to her now, shook her to the core.
She took a deep breath and began to run. The distance she had to cover was not long, but she was unprepared for the uneven footing. With her hands still bound behind her back she could not properly gain her balance, and as her foot caught on a small outcropping she fell to the ground hard. Gasping now, she turned over in time to see the Knight's axe descending swiftly. She rolled quickly to her right, struggling to get to her knees and failing. The scrape of metal over stone warned her of the next Knight; she threw herself forwards with all her might and heard the polearm pass by her head with a rush of air. Gaining her feet again she whirled to face the undead, breathing quickly. The axe Knight moved in again for another strike, the dim light shining off the ivory of his exposed jaw bone and teeth. She took one step back -
She was falling; she hadn't known the edge was so close behind her. It was not a long fall, but she hit hard enough to momentarily lose her breath. The polearm Knight was coming faster than she'd expected; she gathered herself into a crouch and leapt -
Sudden agony ripped through her ... searing, rending pain as the spear pierced her shoulder. She screamed and crumpled, sliding free of the weapon. It was pain like she'd never known before; and though her mind was covered in torturous haze she knew she had to keep moving. She staggered to her feet and twisted around. The Knights were on either side of her now; the tip of the polearm was crimson with her blood. There was nowhere for her to go; to the left and below was a drop of considerable distance, and she knew she wouldn't survive the fall. Terrified, she watched as the Knight with axe lunged at her with startling speed ...
There was a blurred rush of movement, and the axe went wide of its mark. Callo stared as Sydney lashed out with the speed of a striking snake; the slender silver blade he held rose and fell in a flurry of movement. The axe Knight crumpled, vanishing before it hit the ground, and the Müllenkamp leader dispatched the second Knight with the same deadly ease. As the creature's last cry died away Sydney turned to Callo with an expression of concern.
"You are wounded?"
It was more a statement than a question, and when Callo tried to reply she discovered she had no voice. Her entire frame was trembling from both pain and fear, and with a silent sob she fell to her knees.
"Inquisitor," Sydney said, and then he was kneeling at her side. The wound in her shoulder was fast becoming numb, though she could feel the steady drip of blood down her arm. Carefully Sydney reached around and severed the rope that bound her, and Callo then raised her shaking hand to tenderly touch the gaping hole in her shoulder. She heard Sydney's exclamation; he grasped her hand with his own to pull it away. She allowed him to lean in closer and inspect the bloodied mess; when he probed it gently with one clawed finger the resulting wave of agony had her doubled over and gasping. Strong hands were on her back and good shoulder; dazedly she realized the Müllenkamp leader was comforting her. He pulled her upright gently, and cupped her chin in his delicate claws..
"I will heal you," he told her, his dark eyes capturing her own, "But there will be more pain. Be strong, Inquisitor, as I know you can be."
Callo nodded numbly. He gave her a small smile, meant to reassure, before wrapping one arm tightly around her and pulling her closer. Her head fell to rest in the hollow of his neck, she closed her eyes and tensed, uncertain of what was to come. He laid his metal hand flat on her wound, covering it, and though his touch was light it made her whimper all the same. He began to chant; she could hear the words rumble throughout his chest. The same soothing, cleansing sensation she had experienced at his hands previously flooded through her, and she felt her muscles relax as the pain dulled slowly. Minutes passed before Sydney removed his hand, and Callo pulled away to inspect his handiwork. Her shoulder was whole again, pale but for the angry, jagged red scar that was the only remaining mark of the Knight's attack. She raised her arm experimentally; there was still an ache, but it was not so bad as to hinder her movement. She raised her eyes to Sydney and said gratefully, "Thank you."
He nodded. "I am sorry I was not here sooner. The earthquake took us all by surprise."
Callo gazed about the room again, and couldn't suppress the shudder which ran through her at the memory of what had just transpired. Watching the horror flit across her expressive face, Sydney said gently, "You were brave, Inquisitor."
She met his gaze, and shook her head. "I ran."
"Which was all you could do," the prophet replied. "Once again, you surprise me. Not many would have survived under the same circumstances."
His eyes had changed; they were now regarding her with a degree of speculation she was uncomfortable with. Callo tried to stand, and found her legs still shook. Sydney was quick to catch her as her knees gave way; with one arm around her he eased her back down. "Not too swiftly, my dear. You have just only undergone a great deal."
"Hardin and Joshua," she said then, "are they safe?"
Sydney nodded. "Yes. I bid them wait where they were. You and I will have to backtrack in order to meet up with them again."
She didn't bother to ask how he'd found her as quickly as he had; she already knew he had powers beyond imagination. He reached out again to trace a claw lightly along the scar she'd just attained as the mark of his healing; his touch was cool, and again a shiver went through her, but for a very different reason.
"I'm afraid this will be permanent." He said. As if realizing what he was doing, he withdrew his hand quickly, and stood. He held a hand out to Callo, and for a moment she was reluctant to accept it. Confused, she wrapped her hand around his own, and he pulled her to her feet.
"It's time we left this place. We must not keep Hardin waiting too long."
Callo nodded, eager to leave this room behind forever. With a final, appraising glance her way Sydney turned and began to walk.
Shaken by more than just her encounter with the dead, Callo rubbed her shoulder absently and followed.