Liz began to shriek; that sound one makes in their worst nightmares when the body releases fluids in an attempt to flee. Her shriek rose in volume and timber until she finally broke off with a ragged sob, gasping.
I had been intent on rescuing the sacrifices, but the sound of her anguish turned my head and froze my heart. I immediately diverted my attention to her as she drew in a great shuddering breath for the next shriek. The overwhelming terror spurred me into action before my brain had decided what to do. I reached out and placed a hand on her belly, in that softest of points where predators instinctively know to attack.
She flinched at my touch and her terror filled eyes found mine. There was a pleading there, an instinct level horror that spoke of madness and rage — a primal fear that stupefied prey before a predator greater than the imagination of that prey.
I don’t know exactly why that triggers such deeply rooted emotional response in me, but when someone I love is hurting, my brain immediately wants to make that problem go away.
Now, I’ve learned that not all problems are mine to solve, and sometimes people don’t even want your help. But this right here… this absolute child nightmare come to life was not something she’d shrug off without my help. Or, you know, the rest of us pitching in.
I pushed a spike of divine into her, into that black terror that threatened to overwhelm her, and flooded that channel with all the love I could give. I know I have told you how much I love this girl on more than one occasion, but you cannot fathom the depth and strength of that love. Honestly, I had not understood the sheer depths of it until that moment.
Liz began to glow like white hot iron straight from the smithy’s fire. Light began to infuse her very scales, washing out her normal colors, infusing them with a blinding white that threatened to blind me. Yet I pushed more of myself into her.
She threw her head back and instead of a shriek of fear, a cry of joy erupted from her and she eased to the landing, one knee on the ground, a fist in the air. I staggered as I finally released the torrent that flowed from me and the light faded. I say faded, but her glow was as a candle to the sun. I was half afraid that I may be blinded by the glory.
For you see, it was not my adoration that caused such an event, but the mingling of our combined affection that created a power greater than I had ever imagined.
There was one second where Liz knelt poised that the world held its breath. Then Aoibhell and Brindle roared down the stairs; her with a battle cry that gave me shivers, Brindel with a howl that caused the walls to shake.
I looked around in time to see Ingrid and Lilith disappear over the side of the stairs where they vanished into the normal shadows. I say normal because they appeared to be cast by the torches and sconces across the vast room.
Of course, just as I removed my hand from Liz’s belly, one of the shadows moved in an unnatural way and we were beset by half a dozen of the disembodied shades. I lifted the mace and called the word I recalled from Iridius Nightblossom. The light that burst from the mace rolled outward in pulsing waves, each battering the shades, pushing them back and shredding them until they were just gone.
To my surprise, the light continued across the cavern and pushed the great smoke beast back as well. Go me!
In the surfeit of light I could see Jared glaring at me, shock and respect warring with the rage on his face. Once more we prove more formidable than he anticipated.
The sound of Liz’s bow thrumming told me she had recovered. I did not need to dawdle here any longer. I raised the mace over my head and ran after Aoibhell, adding my own war cry to the already chaotic room.
There had been undead here, wraiths, zombies, ghouls, and wights. All had crumbled at the combined power of Liz and my love. I know it sounds trite. I will accept an eye-roll if that is your reaction. Trust me when I say I have never seen power that immense in my life.
And obviously, neither had Jared.
Now, you may ask. What of Eronel? The witch we had hunted across this entire valley, she who slew children and murdered common folk like a scythe through wheat.
She stood at the top of the furthest altar, or rather floated. The shadow creature had her on one amorphous hand where she hung limp and possibly broken.
I caught movement across the room and saw that Lilith had cut the bonds from one of the sacrifices and was shooing the naked woman toward the stair where Liz fired arrows into the priests that rushed forward to the remaining altars. Us freeing their captives was not on their agendas and they scrambled around looking for guidance. Instead they found steel.
Passing one altar I clubbed a lone priest to the ground and moved to the next altar, leaving the poor man bound. He would be as safe as I could make him at the moment, but the priests moving toward the next altar with knives drawn were a greater threat.
With Aoibhell and Brindle tearing among the priests, and Liz’s bow, we soon had control of the ground between us and the raised platform where the smoke monster hovered with Eronel in its hand.
I stopped a dozen feet from Jared, breathing heavy, thinking how much I missed my shield when everyone else fell silent. In that moment there was no one but him and I.
“You have always been a fool,” he said to me, shaking his head. “Sending Abigail to her death. Such a waste.” He paced, waving his hands in the air, anger and frustration rolling off him like a flop sweat. “She knew you betrayed her, you know. Knew and saw your bidding done. Only I had the foresight to make preparations, conceive of an escape.”
This was the point where he was going to tell me of his nefarious plans, I was positive.
Unfortunately for my curiosity that was not to be.
“Hello father,” a voice said from my left and Ingrid stepped from the shadows, her hands empty.
“I see you’ve sacrificed mother, just as you sacrifice everyone you touch.” She pointed to Eronel and things got a little fuzzy.
Did she say father?