Hugging her back to the stone wall, Gwen reached to her belt and pulled a pistol out with each hand. The cold metal in her hands felt reassuring in the dark, unfamiliar world. The corridor was dimly lit, the magical lighting having dissipated over the years.
Agravian's voice sounded clear in her mind, for the first time she heard it without the shadowy quality.
'Gwen, you should be able to sense where I am. Concentrate on me.'
His words were clear, but his accent was unfamiliar to her.
Focusing, Gwen closed her eyes and thought of only Agravian. Opening her eyes, she could feel a slight pull guiding her unerringly toward his location. Moving cautiously down the hall, she aimed her sudden thought back to him, 'Wards! I forgot to ask if I needed a ward here?'
'My mark is better than any ward.'
'Alright,' she said with relief.
The corridor came to a fork. She sensed she needed to turn left. Peeking around the corner, she looked cautiously for any sign of movement. Seeing none, she turned the corner.
At the same time a gang of ten goblins entered the corridor from the other end. The brutish creatures let out a crazed howl and gleefully charged at her.
Quickly recovering from her surprise, Gwen flicked the safeties off and aimed both of her guns. Rapidly, she fired six shots. The noise echoed, reverberating between the narrow walls of the corridor.
She wasn't sure how many of her shots hit their marks, as the projectiles exploded in red sparks. The bullets of her right pistol erupted in a sheet of frost that covered her enemies, hampering their movement. The shots fired from her left gun erupted in chains of lightning, arcing and dancing amidst the goblins.
The horde collapsed in a charred, frosty heap.
Gwen sprinted down the hall, following her senses toward Agravian. She was sure someone would have heard the commotion. Charging at the frost she jumped onto the thick, icy layer, letting her momentum slide her to the end of the patch. She looked at the pile of goblins in amazement.
A final glance at their smoldering bodies gave her an appreciation for the council's desire to keep magic and technology separate. Enchanting the bullets had been a good move, in her opinion. There would be severe consequences if anyone found out, but at least she'd be alive to be punished. For now, she had an edge and intended to use it; her mana wouldn't run out from casting offensive spells while she could fire them in the form of bullets instead. She didn't even need to take precious time to aim, since just getting near her target was enough to do tremendous damage.
Rounding another corner and making a right turn, she raced past numerous dark cells. In the distance she thought she could hear growls and howls. Finally, she felt Agravian's presence and came to a halt before a cell, shrouded in darkness. Snapping the safeties on her pistols, she holstered them.
Swallowing, she placed her hand on the lock and chanted an Open spell. Her voice wavered as she heard a piercing, inhuman shriek not far off. Other barks and screams picked up the call and echoed down the labyrinth of corridors. Finishing the spell, she heard a click and pushed the gate open. As she quickly stepped inside, she tossed a ball of light into the air, where it hovered illuminating the dungeon cell.
A man lay asleep on the ground. He wore a hooded, sleeveless black tunic over a white dress shirt. The loose sleeves of his shirt tucked into leather gloves and bracers with silver decorations across the top. A black cape with a red lining was draped over one shoulder beneath a pauldron on his left side. His waist caught Gwen's eye, adorned with a thick cummerbund comprised of silver leaves, red cloth and leather straps. A pair of soft leather boots reached almost to his knees.
Kneeling beside him, Gwen looked at his face for the first time. His black hood hid his eyes from view. There were deep lines etched in his face and he had a graying black French beard. He was sleeping deeply.
Gwen heard the scrabble of claws against stone. She was certain that her pursuers were not far off.
Closing her eyes, she placed both of her hands together on his chest.
Light pressed against her closed eyes, but she ignored it and concentrated her energies on rapidly dissolving the layers of magic imprisoning him.
She could sense she was almost through the last layer of runes.
The sounds of snarls were practically on top of her now. With every ounce of concentration she could muster, she broke through the final rune.
Gwen felt a claw barely graze her back as Agravian stirred beneath her hands. Moving with inhuman speed, he pushed her away, rolling to his feet. She watched as his fist connected with the stomach of an orc, staggering it to its knees. Launching himself over the orc, he rolled across the creature's back in a somersault. Landing behind the creature, he quickly ducked a fist swinging at his head and slammed his open palm against his attacker's head, forcing it in an unnatural direction with an audible crack. Gwen watched the monster collapse. Glancing around, she couldn't tell how many orcs and goblins had flooded the hall.
A pair of hairy green arms grabbed Agravian around the shoulders from behind as another beast ran toward him, holding a rusty sword. Agravian slammed his head back, colliding with the face of the orc grappling him. Dazed, it loosened it's grip allowing Agravian to slip away, before the assailant's sword could reach him. Unable to stop its swing, the orc thrust the rusty sword into chest of his ally. The impaled orc screamed and howled in pain.
A new foe stabbed a sword at him from behind. Sidestepping the blade, Agravian spun around beneath the still outstretched arm of his assailant. Following the momentum of his swing, Agravian twisted its arm, driving the sword into its midsection.
Agravian's movements were fluid, like those of a dancer. He seemed to have a sixth sense, dodging and weaving assaults from all directions. There were moments where she couldn't follow his attacks, and saw his foes fall to the ground, giving him the illusion of a walking angel of death.
When the last goblin had fallen, Gwen jumped up and tip toed around the bodies to him.
Agravian pointed a hand down the hall.
"Your father-in-law is that way. There is someone I must find."
"Before we go our separate ways, know this; you can become a shadow now," he guided her to stand in a dark corner of the hall.
"Try to blend with the shadows," he directed. "Our kind calls it the 'shadowmeld'."
Oddly, Gwen felt at home in the dark. The shadows swallowed her, wrapping her like a blanket.
Agravian nodded in approval.
"If you run into danger, call me and I will come."
He walked into a shadow and she watched him meld with it, becoming a faint outline. He sprinted away.
Gwen, in her new shadow form, ran swiftly down the hall. More swiftly than she had ever run in her life. She had always been a talented athlete in track, but in the shadows, she felt like she could fly.
She spied a light spilling forth from a room not far off.
Slowing to a walk, she emerged from the shadows.
Inside, she saw Aloysius and a woman she had never seen before.
'Agravian,' Gwen aimed her thought at him, 'they're surrounded by wards... what do I do?'
'Now that I'm free, you are immune to white magic, and all but the strongest of wards will shatter before you.'
"Gwen?!" exclaimed Aloysius in surprise.
Gwen hastily approached a white ward, looking at the rune suspended in mid-air.
She shoved her hand through it, causing an explosion of sparks. The ward shattered into tiny specks of light and vanished.
A manus appeared at the door, accompanied by a group of nasty looking orcs.
"How did you do that?" Aloysius asked with excited curiously.
"Bigger problems!" Gwen exclaimed urgently.
"You're right. Let's go," Aloysius said with evident disappointment, turning toward the murderous creatures at the door.
Gwen knew she was outmatched when it came to manus', their magic exceeded her own, and she didn't have time to stand around.
"I'm going to find Hieronymous," she said.
Aloysius watched with fascination as she was swallowed up by the shadows and disappeared.
"Well, there's something you don't see everyday," he said in wonder.
Olivia stepped forward.
"I will handle this. Continue on with your errand, sir."
"Thank you, Olivia," he replied gratefully.
He teleported out into the hallway and headed in the direction of his son.
Brushing his arms, the remaining pieces of Hieronymous' shackles fell to the ground.
Alcinous and his eight cloaked followers looked on at Hieronymous in bewilderment.
Tossing his hat aside, Hieronymous undid the clasp of his cloak, letting it drift to the floor.
Regaining their composure, one of the men spoke.
"You'll regret that," he said with a snarl.
There were two soft thuds as the man and his closest companion collapsed to the ground, unable to breathe.
The room became chaotic, exploding with chanting as the men frantically tried to shield themselves. Others launched into offensive magic with fireballs and ice lances slamming into Hieronymous. The illusion flickered and disappeared as the spells harmlessly passed through to the ground, leaving it scorched and wet.
"Is that the best you can do?" a voice cackled, with no discernible origin.
"Where is he?" growled a woman in frustration. She cast a detection spell, searching for another illusion.
"There!" shouted a cloaked man, pointing to an empty wall.
They turned, staring blankly and seeing nothing.
The cloaked figure, still pointing, smirked. With the flick of his hand, a wave of force washed over them and they were thrown helplessly into the empty wall. His illusion dropped away, revealing the tall, slender figure of Hieronymous.
Before the men could regain their composure, he vanished, reappearing simultaneously beside one of the stunned figures. Subduing him with a sleep spell, he teleported away again, only to repeat the action on two other dazed figures.
Crawling to his feet, Alcinous began to chant, his three remaining men following suit. As they squared off, the air around them began to crackle with intensity.
Damn, thought Hieronymous. That's more than I can handle in my current state.
A wicked smile crossed his lips as an idea formed.
With a snap of his fingers, his appearance blurred and began to oscillate. The rapid shifting caused multiple images of himself to split into different directions. After the oscillations had increased to an incomprehensible speed, a thunderous crack reverberated throughout the dungeon as bright, blue light exploded in all directions.
Where there had been only one, there now stood ten, identical Hieronymous'.
"Get them!" Alcinous screamed, infuriated.
The men launched a volley of fire attacks against the images of Hieronymous.
Even as the flames ripped through the illusions around them, the Hieronymous' began to chant, before teleporting wildly around the room.
Wasting no more time, Alcinous teleported, throwing a shockwave into the five remaining illusions.
The images disappeared, leaving three crumpled bodies on the floor in the center of the room.
"Thank you," Hieronymous said mockingly from behind Alcinous. "Your last three men could have really caused me trouble. I didn't have the mana to deal with all of them."
Alcinous turned toward Hieronymous, his face red with anger. A vein bulged on his forehead as he stared at the three corpses.
"You... Will... Die!" Alcinous said, frothing at the mouth and beginning to chant furiously.
Hieronymous frowned. "You just don't get it, do you?" he said, as though he were scolding a child.
Alcinous attempted to hasten the casting of his spell, tripping over his own words, before losing it.
With another flick of his wrist, Hieronymous imprisoned the now seething Alcinous, binding him within a ward.
"You're boring me," Hieronymous sighed. "Now, what are we going to do with you?"
Still mocking Alcinous, Hieronymous was surprised as a blue hand with sharp talons wrapped around his throat from behind, lifting him into the air. Hieronymous grasped desperately at the hand and, unable to remove it, his expression changed from surprise, to fear.
Shit, Hieronymous thought to himself again. Did not see that coming.
"Kill him!" Alcinous hissed at the manus.