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Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty Eight

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

It all came down to keys.  Leaving the temple and standing on the great steps down, I stuck my  hand in my pocket and pulled out the three items: scroll, box, and key.  This was the key to the First tower, that place where Merric god-killer had closed forever.  I held that key in my hand and thought of the possibility of whether or not I would ever reach that tower.  There was still so much ahead of me.  Now I needed to track down my father, recover some fool book, and… and…

There was a second key.  My fever addled brain had suppressed the memory, but now that I held a second one in my hand I could recall that toothy grin of the lizard folk wizard as she prattled about my destiny and handed me a key.  A second key.

I sat on the step, pushing the key, the box, and the scroll back into my cloak and began pulling off my boots.  Not an easy feat with only one hand, but with a little ingenuity, I managed.  It’s not like I didn’t remove my boots every day, and you’d think it would get easier with time and experience, but there are certain things that remain difficult for me.  Of course, there was nothing in the first boot — such is the way of luck.  As I struggled to remove the second boot, I noticed I had garnered a bit of attention.

Lilith walked up the steps toward me, a goofy grin on her face and she nonchalantly reached out, grasped my boot by the heel and yanked it off with one smooth motion.  There was a flash of silver in the weak light of the stars, but before I could hear a metallic ringing, Lilith snatched the key out of the air and held it to me.

“Are you so burdened with trinkets that you stuff things in your boots now?” she asked, sitting beside me and grasping my half an arm, hugging it as she placed her head on my shoulder.  “Babies are divine,” she said with a breathy sigh, then she giggled.

“These more than most,” I said, feeling my mood lighten.  What was it about simple physical contact that spoke so strongly to us mortals?  I looked at Lilith and wondered again at her history, the complications she carried with Sparkle Glitterblade.  I had assumed a split personality at first, but now I think it was more complex than that.  The fact that they both seemed to care for me also made it less important to pry.  They would share any details that were pertinent to my needs.

“So, handsome,” she said, snuggling closer, “did you ever dream of settling down and having a family?  A few wee ones underfoot?”

I felt the key pressed into my palm and thought of my mother.

“I don’t believe everyone is destined for that type of life.”

She sighed again, this time more sad than content.  “You are always the fool, are you not dear one?”  And she rose, touching the side of my face for a moment, studying my eyes.  “There are times when it is okay to dream of a different life.”  She kissed me gently on the lips and went back down to where the babies were sleeping on a cloak thrown over turf.

Liz visited me next, a different sort of smile on her face.

“How was she?”  She asked, settling down next to me and taking my half arm the way Lilith had done previously.

“Lilith?  Oh, she’ll be fine, I think.”

Liz laughed.  “Not her, though she did say you would always be the fool as she passed me, and I see that you constantly prove her correct.”

I blinked at her, confused.

“Do you think we would let you wander alone?” she asked, more joyful than I’ve seen her in a long while.  “You are too pensive, too melancholy my heart.”  She reached over and tousled my hair, something she had never done before.  “I saw you in conversation with a woman whom I assume was your mother.”

“And here I thought Lilith the stealthy one.”

She shrugged.  “You seem different.”

I thought on her perception and considered.  I had dreamed of the day I met my mother and while it wasn’t the glorious reunion of my fantasies, neither was it the horror of my nightmares.

“I am contented,” I said, finally.  We sat in silence for a long while, just absorbed in watching the others celebrate.  Eventually I added.  “Now to find my father.”

She bowed her head and laughed.  “Always on to the next thing,” she said, stroking my arm.  “Can you not enjoy the victory?”

I nodded and she rose, tousled my hair once more and went to join the others.  Brindle came to me and lay his big head on my lap with a snort.

“You, too?” I asked, scratching his great ears.  “Are you worried about my meeting with my mother?”  Thankfully he did not answer, but sat with me with no more agenda than keeping me company, and getting scratched.

After a bit, I took out the scroll case and shook out the contents.  Inside were two pieces of parchment.  One a short note, the second a map.

If you follow this map, my son, you can retrace my awkward entry into the Tranquil Valley.  In a hidden underground lake you will find my ship, the Tabula Rasa.   Find a crew, ply the waters of the islands and find your father.  I love you more than I can ever express.

I studied the map for a bit, knowing I needed better light.  But what I saw was sufficient.  I leaned down and spoke to Brindle in a hushed tone.  “Tomorrow, we go back to the lake, my friend.  If all goes well, within a few days, we will be pirates on the open seas.”

Brindle snorted and rolled, exposing his belly.  I laughed and set to rubbing the great expanse with exuberance.

“If only we all were as easily satisfied,” I said.

I made up my mind then, Father.  Perhaps it was time for me to relax and celebrate with my allies.  The days ahead were unknown with a great chance of further pain and wretched moment.  Why not tickle a baby and kiss a few who are willing?  I am only human, after all.

 

<End of Book 6>

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty Seven

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Okay, I didn’t ask either of the questions I should’ve.  Those were too easy.  Tell me about the book.  Or who is my father.  Those seemed trivial all of a sudden.  Instead I reached out and took her hand, which she had not expected.  She flinched, as if she had not meant to every touch me, and a minute later she confirmed the hypothesis.

The tears she shed came heavier and harder than either of us expected and for a long time she just wept.  I wanted to take her in my arms and console her.  Yes she had abandoned me, but who was I to judge.  I did not live her life.

“Why?” I asked when the sobs had subsided.  She sat as far from me as she could without releasing my hand.  There was a strength there, and a desperation.  I saw it in her eyes, that certainty that if she let go of my hand that one of us would surely drown.  For truth, I knew it would be her.

“We had lived a good life, your father and I.  I was young when we fell in love, no more than fifteen summers.  Then they came.”

Her face grew hard and she stiffened her spine a little.

“The Hand of the One True God.”

I nodded.

“They came and took what they wanted, beat my father to death, did worse to my mother and sisters.”  Her voice was cold in that telling and her grip grew painful.

“Your father and I had been out with three others, hunting mushrooms of all things.  The weather had been perfect and the thought of some unsupervised time with my friends had been too alluring.”

There was guilt there, for sure.  Guilt and anger deep enough to open a well.  One I was all too familiar with.

“We five,” she said when she recovered her voice.  “We knew the woods and valleys better than any of the Hand ruffians.  I killed my first man that summer.”  Her hand trembled when she said that, but I could not tell if from rage, fear, or satisfaction.

“Within a month we had a price on our heads.  Two of our number were caught and hung, but others had begun to rally to our call.  By the next month the bishop who had set it upon herself to pacify our island had been found murdered in her bed.  Before reinforcements could arrive, we had stolen a ship, crewed mainly with refugees, and set about plundering any who dealt squarely with those animals.”

There was a fever in her eyes at the telling and I could feel her excitement.

“We were terrors of the coastal islands, plundering and wreaking havoc on trade, but only against those who dealt with the Hand.  For the others we returned ill gotten gains, helped rebuild villages that had been burned.

By the time we were five years into our bloody trade, we heard rumor of an expedition lead by the university at Skyfell.  We had it on good authority that Skyfell had cut a deal with the Hand to explore one of the most ancient of cities.

She pulled out a parchment scroll and set it on the ground by my side.  “Two of the escort ships abandoned them when they saw our colors,” she said, ignoring the scroll as if it didn’t exist.  “The third engaged us and to our surprise we lost two ships.”  Her eyes held sorrow more than anger.  “We lost four hundred in those two ships, dedicated men and women.”  She paused for a bit, lost in history before returning to her tale.

“The university lost a dozen wizards of various levels that day, only two lived to return to their books, carrying with them the tales of having survived our depredation.”

Now she stood, loosing my hand and pacing.  “One of those betrayed us to Jared, the fiend.  But it was a mixed blessing.  Before the storms came that season, we had lost two more ships.  With our last two, your father hit upon a plan that I was against, but he could be very persuasive.”  She was wistful for a moment and I am not ashamed to say that her love for my father bolstered my spirits.

“We had learned of the Tranquil Valley, and of a secret way within.  That way has long been guarded by those in the monastery in which I now resid.  It is with their grace that I am alive today.  It is with their grace that we entered the valley at the behest of their prophecy.”

And there it was.  I think I may have grunted and rolled my eyes because she paused and glanced at me, one of the most terrifying looks I had ever received in my life.  Seriously, it was worse than that look Liz gives me when I’m being exceptionally stupid.

I shrugged.  “I grow tired of prophecies,” and I recited several that seemed to be aimed at me and after the third her smile returned.  By the last, she shook her head in wonder.

“I did not realize I had placed such a burden upon you.”

“It is what it is,” I said, standing to shake the blood back into my legs.  “I am a cleric who calls upon a pantheon of gods.  I have fought demons and many monsters in this world on my final quest.”

Her demeanor grew troubled but I held my hand up to forestall any apology or justification.

“I have put my own feet upon this path, mother.”  The word felt strange in my mouth, but pleasant at the same time.  “I know what I do is near impossible, but how could I do less?”

Her trepidation turned to pride in that moment and she stepped forward to hug me.

It didn’t have the full affect I would’ve liked, not with the plate mail between us, and the whole missing arm thing.  While the contact was brief, it may very well have been the most important of my life.

She stepped back, grasping me by my upper arms and appraised me.

“Your father never returned.  Go to him, find him and the book he took into the white.  Find him and tell him that my love for him burns to this day.”

And with that I knew we were done.  Our small visit bequeathed as a boon by those who had taken her in had run its course.

“Do not forget me,” she whispered into my ear as she placed a kiss upon my cheek.  Then she stepped away, one hand lingering on my shoulder before she turned and climbed the stair back to the balcony

I stood there, watching, lost and helpless.

She glanced back once, raising a pale hand to say goodbye, then she walked through the archway and out of my life forever.

I picked up the scroll case and put it into one of the many pockets in my cloak.

And that’s how I discovered just how tricky my mother was.  In a inner pocket was a small box that had not been there before.

I did not acknowledge it but returned to the top of the temple and those that I loved.

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty Six

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

As the rest went about their recovery, I contemplated the events that had occurred.  I would confer with the others when we were alone once more, but this is how I think things went down.

The basket twins were an all but forgotten pair of deities, forgotten because the proto-elves had died out to the last.  Elves as we know them had evolved or been altered by great magic and somehow the affinity for the Basket Twins was lost.

But not all forgot the deities.  The lizard folk knew of them, and this temple.  It was they who set up here in this valley before the fall of the Nine and Sixty.  When Merric god-slayer and his merry band of martyrs set about bringing the downfall of the entire world, these lizard folk and their elvish child gods took it upon themselves to raise the walls of the valley, raise the cliffs above the sea and give this place a safety that protected it from the worst of the destruction.

In doing so they had grown very weak.  When I came into the world, the Basket Twins had already been corrupted by Jared.  He had already absorbed the power of the girl child, giving him his great longevity, but anchoring him to this life.  The second child he corrupted and bound, using his great power in necromantic rituals, entwining hand-picked priests in the valley and even one to lead the monsters.  Eronel had been the latest in a long string of villains over the centuries, but she had proven the wiliest.

I cannot begin to imagine how Ingrid came to be conceived, and frankly that level if detail is not needed here, but the fact she existed proved to be the undoing of Jared and the saving grace for the Basket Twins.

The rest of the details are irrelevant.  We are where we are and history can be made up by the survivors.  In that moment I wanted  nothing more than a bit of solitude.  I had likely angered the gods, at least shamed them publicly, and for that I’m sure there would be repercussions.

Not that I had a clue, in any case.  While the celebration ran deep into the night, I slipped away.  Lilith was busy with the babes with Brindle watching them like his very life depended on it.  Liz was in deep conversation with Aoibhell which felt both intimate and personal.  So as I wandered about at lost ends, I found my feet taking me back down through the temple to the great hall far below.

The room was different from when we first made our way into the battle.  The six altars had been purged of the taint that Jared had perpetrated and the dais held a crib of pine boughs and lined with down.  As I walked down the main aisle toward the dais I realized the temple was not as empty as I had first assumed.

Beyond the dais rose another stair, this one to a balcony which looked over the great hall and upward into a far archway.  A solitary figure stood on the balcony, covered from head to toe in a robe of purest white.  The cowl was pulled forward so the face was buried deep in shadows.  I paused when I saw this figure and started to turn back, but they raised a hand, beckoning me forward.  I hesitated.  I had had my fill of quests and prophecies, secret guardians and ancient pacts.

I could discern no other reason for a figure in white to be waiting upon a balcony we had not seen in our previous excursion here, so I found myself wary, if not a tad paranoid.

At my hesitation, the figure held up a hand and began walking down the long stair toward me.  Meeting me half way seemed a fair enough compromise, so I waited.  Near the bottom of the stair, I saw the figure gracefully hop over the third step and come striding toward the dais.

“Hello,” I said, opting for politeness until I was given reason to go to the mace.

The person studied me, their head cocking from one side to the other as if to see me from different angles.

Then she pushed her hood back and I stumbled.

I knew that face.  It was Kaira, my mother.

She was older than the picture young Blunt had drawn for me, but I could not misidentify those eyes.

“What are you called, child?” she asked.  There was pain in that voice, loss and shame.

I stood as tall as I could in my armor and smiled.  “Those who raised me named me Useless Lump.”

She flinched at those words, but did not speak.

“Those who love me call me Merric.”

“And strangers?” she asked, trepidation plain on her face.

I shrugged.  “Cleric most often, or curses if they are among my enemies.”  I was deliberately avoiding answering her query.  I did not know what to tell her.

“Forgive me,” she said, her voice now a whisper.  “I do not deserve it, but I beg it of you all the same.”

“Are you my mother then, truly?” I asked and this caused her to reel back as if I had struck her.

She recovered her composure, but tears trailed down her cheeks.

“He whom you defeated killed my crew,” she said, anger giving her voice a bit of resolve.  “His rage at the loss of the artifacts was so great he cursed this whole valley.  Every child born in that year would wither and die.  Every one.  But not you.”

I did not interrupt her and she continued.

“The wizard, she took you in exchange for the book,” she breathed a heavy sigh.  “So many died for that book, and I looked for it for years.  But I do not regret the choice.”  She looked me square in the eyes and a smile crept to the edges of her lips.  “You are tall, like your father.”

A wave of dizziness swept over me and I stumbled, finding the strength had left my legs and I sat heavily on the dais beside the crib.

She moved toward me, one hand out as if to touch me, but she did not take that final step.  “You slept in this crib your first nights,” she said.  “Hidden here in this place that had been so corrupted.  He never thought to return here in those days, so we were safe after a fashion.”  She paused, remembering troubled times.  “But the nightmares were overwhelming.”

I thought of the vivid dreams I had had my entire life, the quest that had driven me.

“I am sorry, my son.  I wish I could have raised you myself, but I knew that my needs were nothing compared to yours.”  She straightened, glanced upward to the balcony and her shoulders sagged.  “I have little time, my pride, I must return before I am discovered gone.  Ask me what you must, then I needs flee.”

I didn’t move exactly, just rocked a bit as my head swam.  Images of a mother who sang a song.  Not the lullaby that Captain Madeline Kershaw had sung to quiet me as they made their way to you, Father Mulcahy.  Rather a ditty about rolling seas and drowned dreams.

In the end, two questions warred in my mind.  One affected the fate of the world and one affected no one but myself.  They roared back and forth in my psyche, great goliaths of want and need.  Until with a sigh, I settled on what I knew was best for most.

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty Five

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Leave it to the gods to do something so ridiculous as to be insulting.  I mean, they thought they were doing a kindness, I’m sure, but in hindsight it rang as false, so  cheap and tawdry that it diminished those of us who survived.

When we made it to the top of the stairs, we found that the entire place had been cleansed and repaired.  There were no dead bodies anywhere.  The trees were flourishing and fresh flowers bloomed in manicured grounds.

In the main courtyard in front of the temple were set great banquet tables laden with food and drink.  Each of the survivors with Boris and Adeline had their wounds bandaged and their clothes and bodies cleansed, all through divine magic.

What it accomplished, I think, was to take away the value of the sacrifice.  We mortals need to understand the consequences of our actions.  We need to grieve the loss of compatriots and nurse the wounds so we comprehend the true butcher’s bill.  If the gods, well meaning or not, sanitize everything, then we forget the price.

This fiasco of good will took all that away.   When we emerged, the pirates cheered us.  While they hefted great tankards of foaming ale, I saw the horror behind their eyes.  These people were out of balance.

Mother Crone beamed at us as we marched out onto the temple steps and we paused there, looking out over the cheering crowd and I had to speak my mind.  It would never be enough, but it was the least I could do under the circumstance.

“My friends,” I called out, and my voice carried across the throng, amplified by some magic I did not see.

The pirates cheered again and it took a moment for them to calm once more.  The cheering was tinny in my ears, brittle and false.

“Please,” I called, my voice cracking at the end of the word.  “I beg of you.”  The crowd stopped their antics and looked up at me, perplexed.

“This is a charade,” I said, letting the anger creep into my voice.  “I know the powers here thought to do us a kindness, but it is false.”

There was no sound to that.  They crowd below us grew deadly quiet.  They exchanged looks of confusion, and in a few faces, hope.  Hope for pain, hope for grime, hope for the bloody remnants of a battle where loved ones fought and fell.

“I beseech you,” I said, turning to the divine host who stood upon the stairs to my left.  “You cannot paint an old barn and call it new.  These people need the reality of the day, not the pretense of glory.  Death took far too many today.  Blood ran into the earth and pained cries scoured the sky above.  These are real things.  These are our right, our reward for daring to challenge those who would beat us down.  We have earned every scar, every wound, every moment of anguish and relief.  We should look forward to returning home to our families and nursing our wounds.  We should sit in taverns with our wounds and tell the tales of our glory.”

My stomach ached with the dichotomy of it all.  This wholesome reciprocity.

“We deserve our pain and our sorrow.  Let us grieve and rejoice.  For you cannot have one without the other.  Let us mourn our fallen and sing of their glory.”

No one moved.  It was as if the world held its breath, so I sang.

“In far flung fields when the skirmishes wane

we yearn for the forests of home

As we bury our fallen, we think to our loves

And vow that no more shall we roam

But the harrowing sharpens the blade of our lives

and the cairns mark the truth of each day

With our scars and our tales we bear witness to death

for it is the butcher’s bill that we pay”

I’m not a great singer.  I mean well, and I believe that is what truly counts.  Semaunzilla (may she help the others see true) but nodded at me and vanished in a flash.  Kithri stepped to me and pulled me down far enough to plant a kiss on my cheek.  Then she too was gone.

Only Mother Crone remained, stunned and abashed by my words.

“I did not know,” she said with tears in her eyes and the world shifted.

Where there had been tables with cloth and goblets of gold, stood fires and tents.  Wounded lay on bedrolls with each man and woman adorned in their own begrimed raiments.

A few were angered at first, by the change, but the rest seemed truly relieved.  As we walked down the stairs into the midst of those who had battled, they reached out to touch the babes, or us, and we began the healing that had to occur.

For hours we sat with them, holding a hand, hearing a tale, being in the presence of others who shared similar events.  It is the best form of healing.  Magic is quick and efficient, but when the mind and body are not as one, the individual finds that they cannot cope.  Loud noises frighten them, shadows cause them to be startled.  Anger comes quickly, and joy hard to find.

So we did what we have done for time out of mind.  We took care of one another within the best of our hearts.  Oh, I definitely did a bit of healing.  Even the gods had not healed everyone.  Only bandaged them.  The wounds were left to Liz and I, or the true healer, time.

I think the best medicine for the sixty eight that lived was the presence of the elven babes.  Everyone of them took a moment to hold one of the children and exclaim over their exotic beauty.  For they were beautiful, Father.  The immortality of the elves is legendary, but these are the first elvish children I had ever seen, and they were gods.

Granted, gods who soiled their nappies.  The irony of these two was that they were truly infants, in need of diapers and feeding, little fluid exchangers that took milk from a soaked cloth, and within a few hours returned thrice the volume of excrement and urine.

How did any child ever live beyond this stage of life, I wondered aloud to Liz as the babes were fussed over by one pirate or other, and she laughed at me.  “They survive because they are cute, and cuddly, and smell like love.”

I didn’t argue with her.  I hadn’t thought to smell the children.  One does not typically go around sniffing gods.

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty Four

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

A chain reaction erupted throughout the desecrated temple.  The death of Jared, something so long in coming that it had altered the balance of reality in the space he inhabited, caused havoc in the aether.  I reached for healing but power exploded out of me in great torrents, battling the outward explosion of foulness that erupted from Jared’s broken form.

On the dais, where the great smoke monster had rose as tall as my frost giant friend, Alfred, a change was taking place.  Vile magicks that had built layer upon layer over the intervening eons began to unravel.

A vortex rose from Jared’s body, a maelstrom of fetid power, corrupt beyond anything I had witnessed.  More foul even than the tainted flowering vines that was the source of the blight.  The connection to the Abyss in that case had corrupted an entire region.  Here, in this valley, the contagion had been limited to the inside of this once hallowed hall.

Not unlike the bastion that was once the Hallowed Fortress.  This place had housed a deity both ancient and tired.  So weak in fact from the raising of the mountains and the purging of the evil from what was to become the Tranquil Valley, that it stood no chance when Jared arrived with his necromancy and his wiles.

He and I were connected, through the long march of time.  I saw that in the last moments of his shredded spirit.  He had loved me once, or the Merric that had brought about the destruction of the Nine and Sixty.  In his eyes we were different chapters in the same book.  That was the seed that would not die within him.  That spark that was available for a daughter to coerce, to manipulate, and grow.

And the love of that broken man spoke to me, triggered a thought so absurd that it could only be divine.

I reached out with my missing hand, the one that did not truly exist any longer, and grasped the dying spark that had been the last vestiges of Jared the Black’s humanity.

Don’t ask me how I knew to do this, nor exactly what I did, but I could feel the last thrumming of that mote and I pulled it from the decaying vortex and without pausing to question my own sanity, plunged my nonexistent fist into Ingrid’s chest.

The mote, that final vestige of light and hope burst from my fist and I fell back, blinded by the conflagration that mushroomed around me.  White fire roared from Ingrid’s body and to my horror, the flesh was consumed along with all her worldly possessions.  Between one heartbeat and the next my hope of bringing the girl back was both a failure and a success; only in a way I had no ability to imagine.

Before me stood Ingrid, as sure as the parchment you hold in your hands, Father Mulcahy.  But it was not her at the same time.  The spirit that rose from the ash of her body grew larger and brighter until all of us turned away, shielding our eyes from the terrible glory.  I could feel the radiance against my exposed flesh, feel as my skin reddened and burned.

Then the light was gone and I opened my eyes, blinking away the blur to find a child upon the altar.  Jared was gone, Ingrid was gone, and the spirit had coelsced here into this naked babe.  I stepped forward and the child’s eyes focused on my own, showing a level of intelligence I had only seen in wizards or gods.

“Who are you?” I asked.

A scream spun me around and I looked toward the dais.  Aoibhell ran across the great hall, Brindle at her heels, crying out a string of unintelligible words, weeping and wailing.  Brindle howled as he paced her, a mournful cry that made me think of finding home after a lifetime of adventure.  Funny that.

I turned, following their trajectory and saw a small form falling from the highest point of the room, down toward the dais where the shadow monster and Eronel had been moments before.   The being wailed as it fell, a fearful sound of lost hope and shorn love.

Aoibhell dove forward, snatching the babe out of the air, and tumbled, rolling with the child against her chest.  Brindle with on them in a beat, stopping Aoibhell’s tumble and snuffling at the child.

A gasp brought me around to find Lilith standing atop the cleansed altar, sheathing the assassin blades she had been using to slay the priests that coward in the shadows.  I watched in amazement as she knelt and reached out toward the child on the altar.  By her nakedness I could see that it was a girl with eyes as green as spring leaves.  It cooed, unaware of Aoibhell and the wailing child.

Lilith knelt on that altar and reached out with one hand.  The girl child burbled and smiled, small bubbles of spittle popping from her pursed lips.

The child reached out and grasped Lilith’s extended finger, holding it in one tiny fist and both of them let out a sigh of contentment.  It gave me a funny feeling, the sight of the two of them.  There was a connection there as primal as any I have witnessed and I knew in that instant that Lilith had been forever transformed.

The smoke monster was gone.  Eronel was gone.  The priests, the undead, even the bodies of the brigands, all purged from the temple.  And in their stead, two babes, a boy and a girl remained, as helpless as any infant.  They were elvish, Liz informed me, or proto-elvish if Aoibhell was to be believed.  These were of her people, her legacy, her mythology.

And in that instant I knew these children from my studies.  They were the Basket Twins.  I know you have read of them Father, ancient elvish gods, the only elvish deities I’ve ever seen an accounting of.  Their myths were so old that only the generic moniker and their race was known.  If they had individual names, I knew nothing of them.

The temple gleamed now, with the purging of the taint and I could feel the sanctification upon the place.

Then applause rang out and I spun to find three standing upon the sweeping stair: Semaunzilla (may she always find joy in my work), Mother Crone and Kithri.  Oh, my heart, my deepest and most abiding affection, it was she of the honeyed bread and at her feet sat a basket which I had grown familiar with.

“Well done,” Mother Crone called.  “You have done what even your mother failed at, boy.”

We gathered at the stair, all of us that remained and stood before the gods who had guided us, a thousand questions waiting to be answered, and likely ignored.

“Adeline and her people gather in the courtyard above,”  Kithri said.  “You have done well, Merric.”

“We have lost too many,” I said, my voice more bitter than I had planned.  “I am sick of death.”

Semaunzilla (may she guide my grief) stood forth and spoke.  “Death is but one facet of this life, young dry lander.  You know this.  Have heart. ”

And with that we were escorted out of the temple.  I should’ve been awed by the way the ruin had been rebuilt.  How the glory of this place had been restored by the powers greater than my understanding.

But all I could think about was Ingrid’s mischievous smile, and how she had overcome far more darkness than I have ever had to deal with.

I do not understand the sequence of events that brought forth the elvish gods, but I mean to ask my questions.

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty Three

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

“What is this madness?” Jared growled, spinning where he stood, seeking something he could not see.  “Who calls father?” he bellows, rage and fear mingled in his voice.

Liz stood on the landing of the great sweeping stair, striking down any that moved to attack the prisoners.  There were much fewer priests and brigands by this point.  how had they been so utterly surprised?

From the stair, the tiled mosaic ran between the two rows of altars, each spaced a dozen strides apart.  Beside each altar stood a brazier with flames licking toward the cavernous roof far overhead.  Beyond the last altar rose a dais of six steps, upon which lay the broken remnants of a magical prison; a ward that had held a being of immense darkness from time out of mind.

Only those shackles had been recently shattered.  Was it Eronel’s doing?  Or Jared’s perchance?  And despite the sudden freedom, the smoke monster, perhaps accustomed to the feel of its once prison, had launched forward only to snatch up Eronel and return to the familiarity with his victim in hand.

Or had it sought to rescue Eronel from Jared.  The scene could be understood from more than one angle.  And who exactly had Ingrid called father?  Surely Jared, but what if?

Ingrid strode into the center of the room and Jared stopped his frantic circling, as if he heard the scraping of her boot on tile.  His breathing was heavy, laden with fear and rage.  As I watched him I could see an abnormality in his features.  A bestial form that pushed at the bones of his face.  But only for a moment, then he was back to his plain weathered face and those funny little eyes.

Aoibhell and Brindle were helping several prisoners over toward the stairs, taking advantage of the sudden lull in the fighting.  Even Liz stopped firing her arrows.  It was as if the world held its breath for that instant, waiting to see what happened next.

All but Lilith.  While Lilith was nowhere to be seen, a shout of pain came from the far side of the hall and a body hit the floor announcing her position, if only for a moment.

Jared whirled.  He glowed with a black light, the purple sparks that flecked the edges of his aura seeming to war with the light from the sconces and torches.  His hands crackled with power and he searched around as if blind, seeking the source of the cry.

“Who said father?” he raged, his voice oily and cold.

For some reason he could not see Ingrid who stood not twenty strides to his left.  Then I realized he couldn’t see anything.  Out of curiosity I clicked over to the green sight and saw that he had been gravely wounded.  Not from any blow, none other than the glory of the magic that Liz and I had used to drive back the shadows.  That which shattered her fear, had pulsed over him as well.

I remembered how my attempt to heal him had wounded and my most lethal wounding spell had healed him.  His life had become so tainted that he could nearly become a lich, or so I imagined.  However something small and fluttering held him back; keeping him a hair’s breadth from that tipping point.  Was it love?  The midge within him festered, the tiniest of wounds that would never heal.  If he would just deny that flicker, he would cross over.

Oh how he tried, I could read that in him as clear as reading the words on a page.  This mote that prevented him from eschewing the final thread of his mortality had grown so very weak over the centuries and yet it could not be quelled.  Not even with the sacrifices of dozens?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  And yet that meanest speck of light needled his spirit, foiled his plans.  He could not even see it to excise it if he had had the means to quash it.

Now before him stood a daughter, a child born of a hate filled union between a monstrous necromancer and his latest protégé, Eronel.  It was so clear to one who understood the true value of love.  To one such as Jared, it may as well be on one of Golgotha’s seven moons.

I understood it clearly now.  Here, in this valley protected from the horrors of the cataclysm, he hoped to culminate the final promise, fulfill the dark desire and merge his tattered soul into the depths of blackness that birthed the great shadow beast before us.

All that flashed to me through his vacant and unseeing eyes.

“Jared,” I called, stepping to the side.

He spun, purple lightning flashing toward where I had stood a moment before.  I did not have to move far to confuse him.

His head swiveled, straining to catch the sound of any of us.  Unfortunately for him, the roiling and crackling of the great smoke beast echoed around the chamber, creating false impressions.

He spun and blasted a stone pillar to his right, causing rocks to fall.  A great wave of dust and ash spread out, engulfing him for a moment and he bent, retching.

Ingrid took a step toward him, holding out one hand.

“I forgive you, father,” she said, her voice strong.  “I know it is you who first put these into the hands of our people.”  She pulled the assassin daggers from her belt, holding them each by their worn leather handles.  “I know it was you who showed the first necromancer how to prey upon our people.  You who brought darkness into this place of peace and tranquility.”

She stalked toward him and by instinct he flinched back, stumbling over a dead priest and fell hard against an altar.

There was a thread of panic in him then.  Her words, the forgiveness she had gifted him had forced that tiny mote in his spirit to pulse twice and double in size.  Like a knife in his soul, each pulse a slash that spilled black hatred.  He gasped and flung his left hand out.

Ingrid did not even flinch as the power lanced to her right, the strength of it blowing her hair around as if in a breeze.

“These,” she cried — Throat Ripper in her left fist, and Heart Biter in her right — ready to strike as she calmly stepped toward him.  “These have tasted their last,” and she lunged forward, closing the final distance, the assassin blades flashing in the light of the braziers.

Jared cried out and a great screaming suffused the room.  For a moment I thought she had slain him, foregoing Mother Crone’s final gift.  But as the roar crescendoed and spirits of century upon century of dead rose in a torrent, I realized she had stabbed the blades into the altar to either side of her father, shattering them against the magic that had first formed them in the forgotten days.

She kissed him then, his life leech sucking her spirit in an attempt to steal her glorious essence.  That kiss, you see, another act of love for a man who deserved nothing but eternal torment, caused the mote in his chest to double and double again.  Only with each pulse it doubled and doubled as the love of a broken and angry daughter overwhelmed the foul heart of a the unwanted father.

In case you thought that this tale would end with love conquering all, I will say good for you and your sudden optimism.  But such was not to be.

For you see, she had other weapons, and these she drew in one swift motion and cut her father; one thrust to the throat, and the other to the belly.

And like that Jared the Black bled his last upon the very temple he first desecrated seventy thousand years before.  His smoking blood pouring over one of the altars he had used to sacrifice so many.

I rushed forward and pulled Ingrid from him, too late it seemed.  Her heart fluttered and stopped, but there was a smile on her face as the light went out of her eyes.

Cleric Journal: Day Four and Thirty Two

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

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?

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty One

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I was thinking on how we would next be challenged and may have missed a few things that Lilith said before I heard her suggest I lead us down the stairs since I had the best armor.  Which, of course, was the most logical thing for her to do.  Besides, I had the whole detect traps thing down to a science.  Well, a hobby for someone with no true skills detecting traps, and more a history of triggering traps.

Remembering the horrible tomb experience previously, I was going to make sure that none of my friends got smacked with a swinging scythe, or dropped into a pit of spikes ever again.  Perhaps I had gotten a bit compulsive.

I lead the way down the stairs, checking each one for traps with a thoroughness that made me proud, and made Lilith swear.  After only thirty minutes I was on the third step, checking for trip wires, spring loaded darts and other known contraptions when Lilith asked me through gritted teeth if I had lost my mind.  She was not happy about the progress, saying that the necromancers would either have their unborn children fighting us by the time we reached them, or perhaps they would die of old age before we got to the bottom of the landing.

I calmly explained what I was doing and she blew up at me, throwing her hands into the air and storming off.  I made it down to the fourth stair when she started shouting at the others who had been lingering around the head of the stairs, waiting for me to progress further.

“Stand aside,” Lilith called and I instinctively moved, pressing my body up against the left wall, assuming she’d noticed some trap I’d missed.

Instead she flung a body down the stairs where it bounced its way to the bottom with a series of meaty thunks, squishes, and crunches.  No traps were triggered, I’ll admit.

“Can we go now?” she asked.  “Before we grow old?”

Then I casually pointed out that the body didn’t actually land on every step and that the risk of a trap was far too great.

I am thankful that she did not throw me down the stairs, and the mood she was in, I believe she may have been able to do it.  Instead she slid another dead brigand down the stairs, this one with less force, and it rolled downward, getting lodged sideways about three quarters of the way down.  Again, no traps were released.

When I didn’t move onward, she shoved me out of the way and stomped down the stairs, making a point of hitting each step more than once.  She was making a lot of noise, but Liz pointed out that it was no surprise that we were here.  They battle with the wyvern alone had been a good warning to any who could hear.

I grumbled a bit as I followed Lilith down.  She kicked the second body loose from where it had gotten lodged and followed it down to the landing where two bodies now lay, tangled and broken.

When I mentioned that the blood and bile, among other noxious liquids, made the stairs treacherous, she punched me in the eye.

She has tiny fists, and a quick temper.  I let the whole thing drop after that.

“She is a rogue,” Liz said as she passed me on the way down to the next level.  “She said she and Ingrid had already checked for traps which is why you should go first.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Is that what she was saying?”

Seriously, I needed to pay better attention.  A wandering mind can sometimes lead to trouble, or a punch in the eye.

The room at the bottom of the stairs was empty — not even a dead body or anything.  Off it were three doors.  One was covered in some form of glowing green slime, which we opted to ignore.  The second was open, but led along a passage that ended in a collapse about twelve strides deeper in.  The third door had well maintained hinges which had seen use recently.  Ingrid checked the door for traps, then Lilith double checked her work.

I did not point out that they were also concerned about traps, partly because Liz gave me a look, and partly because… okay, it was because Liz gave me a look.

There were four rooms off this corridor, each ending in a small barracks room, which were empty since the brigands were all either dead, or outside fighting pirates.

How often do you see the phrase, “brigands fighting pirates”?  I would think perhaps that could be redundant in certain circles.  I’m sure the fine folks at Skyfell University would have an etymological conversation about the true difference between those two words.

At the end of that passage was a large open banquet hall, then a kitchen, store room and armory.   Here we had our first encounter.  There were three men chained to the walls here, burly men with forearms like tree trunks, and chests broad enough to give Bob a run for his money.

These men cowered behind the cold forge and we offered to free them.  They gibbered something incoherent and Lilith suggested we could free them on the way out.  Not good to have crazy people at our back, and the brigands and pirates were not done fighting just yet.  These poor fellows deserved not to die the minute they stepped out into the sunlight.

We travelled down another flight of stairs, through a few more barracks rooms, some nicer than the others, and a few private rooms which had to be for officers.  Lilith and Ingrid were inclined to loot every room, but frankly I wanted to get this over with.

The next level down held stores and cells, each holding a dead prisoner.  Perhaps we could’ve been quicker to get here instead of solving every problem between here and there.

Finally, after another long stair, three rooms filled with ghouls (which we killed), six skeletons (which Brindle personally killed) and a handful of small chests that held coins, we found the double doors that opened into a great sweeping staircase down to an enormous room filled with burning torches, two necromancers, half a dozen prisoners on altars and a summoning circle where a black shape writhed and twisted, sparks of fire flashing within the magical container.  Oh and priests, there seem to always be a cadre of nefarious priests.

“Finally,” Aoibhell said, and we all turned to look at her and she shrugged, saying a string of words I could not comprehend.

When she pointed at the necromancers below, I saw that Jared made a motion and the summoning circle was shattered.  The smoke creature flowed out into the center of the room and the prisoners began to scream

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Thirty

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I was beginning to yearn for a few quiet weeks in an inn somewhere, going over my notes, making changes to the maps, worshipping with, oh anybody, and drinking.

Aoibhell had a fractured shoulder, but that was easy enough to fix.  Freak accident with that roof tile.  Such is luck sometimes.  Brindle was mainly bruised with nothing too horrible other than a torn ear.  I was able to fix him right up as well.  Liz was pretty much unscathed and I had a bruise that ran along the right side of my back.  I was able to function pretty well and I was afraid to drain too much of my energy at this point in this little fiasco.  I may need the healing for others at a more dire point.  I could tough it out.

We crept into the temple, only to find Lilith and Ingrid sitting on a large broken sarcophagus.  Around them lay a handful of dead cappas, some zombies and several brigands.  There were more bodies on a staircase going up.

“There are more bodies upstairs,” Ingrid said, grinning.  “They didn’t expect us to come from that angle.”  She hopped down and settled her short swords on her hips.  She hadn’t had a pair of short swords when they went into the temple, so I assumed she liberated those from someone who no longer needed them.

“There were a few brigands up there,” Lilith said, standing and stretching.  I saw that she had a bulging pack on her hip.  Looting already, it seemed.  “There’s a good vantage point over the road.  They were picking off Adeline’s crew while they scrambled away from the shadow creatures.”  She cracked her knuckles and tossed Liz a quiver full of arrows.  “Their leader had these, I thought maybe you’d recognize them.  Quality is above average for simple brigands.”

Liz caught the quiver and pulled out one of the shafts.  The heads were pretty wicked, meant to punch through armor if I had my guess.  The fletchings had been died a pattern in red, green and blue; seemed like something I should recognize, but nothing came to mind.

“These weren’t made in this valley,” Liz said, sliding the examined shaft back into the quiver.

“That’s what I thought,” Lilith said, hopping down and walking over to me.  “Lizard folk made, right?”

Liz nodded thoughtfully.  “Old,” she said.  “Old out of legend.”

Lilith smiled.  “Thought you’d appreciate them.”

Liz took a few moment to swap quivers.  She secured her old one against the side of her pack and slipped that back around her shoulders.

“Thanks,” Liz said, drawing her bow and nocking one of the new arrows.

Lilith shrugged and turned to me with a quizzical look.

“And you, mister.”  To my surprise she pulled me down and kissed me on the mouth.  “I saw that wyvern club you to the ground.  Try not to get too broken, will you?”  She stepped back and patted me on the rear before walking past Liz and pointing off to the left.

“Stairs going down.  Brigands in the yard won’t last much longer, Adeline’s crew is at about fifty percent strength, but Boris and his band of crazies didn’t lose anyone.  They are fighting their way to the main road.   No one expected us to split our forces, apparently.”

Ingrid chuckled.  “Fatal error.”

” Guess who surprised the new brigand captain?”  Lilith hooked her thumb over toward Ingrid.

We all swiveled our heads to look at the her.

“Girl won those blades fair and square.”

Ingrid blushed, believe it or not.  “Mother Crone said I could choose not to use the daggers if I didn’t want to,” she patted the new pommels at her hips.  “I thought it would be nice to have a few options.”

Liz stared at Ingrid for a moment before sliding her arrow back in the quiver and slinging her bow over her back.  She stepped over to the girl and gave her a hard look.  “You know those were my blades, right?”

Ingrid’s smile faltered and she glanced at Lilith, confused.

“Spoils of war?” Lilith said, more a question than a statement.

Liz put her hands on the two blades at her own hips, those that had been gifted to her by Lilith when her own pair had been stolen by Reginald, Eronel’s lover.  I can only imagine how the brigand captain came to have them.

“Too right,” Liz said, shrugging.  “And  these are nice blades.”  She rubbed the pommels, pondering.  “Yes indeed, nice blades but more made for a rogue, don’t you think?”

Lilith laughed.  “Sure, I can see why you’d feel that way.”

Ingrid looked up, as if she’d had the most wonderful idea.  “Want to trade?”

Liz unbuckled her belt and held the sheathed swords out to the girl.

“Wow,” Ingrid said, staring at the blades.  “Those were yours?” she asked, looking at Lilith.

Liz shook the leather in front of the girl.  “Your gear, your trade.  Interested?”

She didn’t have to be asked again.  Ingrid took of her new belt, traded the blades to Liz and then the both settled the belts over their hips, the blades adjusted for quick access, but tilted back so they wouldn’t interfere if either of them needed to start running.

“Can we go now?” I asked after they attempted to draw out their new blades and start fondling them.

“I need to check that they are no nicks on the blades,” Liz growled, but Ingrid shook her head.

“I already looked at them.  They look like new.”

Liz looked at the girl a moment and let out a sigh.  “Good enough I guess.”

Then she unslung her bow once more and moved toward the stair going down.

“Come on then,” she said over her shoulder.  “If you are in such a hurry to face this, let’s move.”

We crept toward the stair as the sound of battle out in the front of the temple began to crescendo.  Lilith reported that the pirates were over the wall so we didn’t have to worry about anyone coming at us from behind.

Time to begin the dangerous work.

Cleric Journal: Day Four Hundred and Twenty Nine

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I think the wyvern was one of the coolest creatures I’ve ever seen.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll likely see the thing in my nightmares for a long time, but it had a beauty and grace that went beyond even Cassandra the black dragon I’d had the experience of meeting, and eventually helping kill.  The wyvern was an animal with an intelligence far below even the cappas and they ended up being pretty thick.  No, the wyvern was a formidable mount, likely raised by whomever was crazy enough to ride the thing.  Notice I didn’t say tame or docile.  The creature was wild, seeing those creatures around her as either prey or predator.  And she didn’t likely see too many things to fear in her experience.

One of the weapons I’ve used previously is this wicked spear made of two broken magic items: a wizard’s staff and a vorpal blade.  We acquired it from the croakers, Liz and I, back when we first met.  I believe it is stuffed in that sideways pocket closet Lilith had pilfered from Wizard Tim; the place where I’m keeping most of my journals now.  If I had the opportunity, having that spear would have made things a lot easier.  But Lilith had the pocket closet, folded up and stuffed in her pack and she was in the temple doing gods know what.

So we did it the hard way.

Liz started firing arrows into the beast the first moment it smashed out into the courtyard.  Aoibhell lunged forward with her sword and shield at the ready, deflecting the wyvern’s stinger.  It missed Brindle by a hairs breath and smashed into the ground with a bone jarring thud.  Stinger likely meant poison, but the force of that blow alone could’ve broken the poor dog’s back.  Not to be intimidated in any fashion, Brindle lunged forward, biting the tail just above the stinger.

Obviously that hurt because the wyvern screamed in outrage and pain.  Unfortunately for Brindle he was stubborn enough to keep his jaws locked when the wyvern drew her tail back from the source of pain.  He flew across the yard,  flung off the tail, and smashed into a flowering tree with a piteous yelp followed by a series of crashes as he fell through the branches where he landed on the ground with a loud thump and did not rise.

Aoibhell did not hesitate but dashed forward, taking a swung wyvern claw against her shield, but managing a deep slash, parting scales and sending a spray of black blood across the ground.  The beast shrieked a second time and two more arrows embedded themselves into its right leg, causing it to stumble.  That was all the opening I needed and I weighed in, smashing the right wing with my mace, feeling the satisfying crunching of cartilage and bone.

For a split second I thought we were going to take this thing down before anyone else got hurt.  Oh, foolish mortal.  Liz’s next three arrows bounced off the wyvern’s scales and Aoibhell’s next blow went wide when another claw caught her under the edge of the shield, knocking her off balance.

She stumbled three steps against the outer temple wall and spun, bringing her shield up in time to catch the wyvern in the jaw.  Another second and those razor sharp teeth would have done great harm to our proto-elf companion.

I swung my mace, landing two more blows, but neither of them rewarded me with the bone crunching impact I had expected.  This monster was large and very tough.

Two more arrows skittered off its hide before one managed to find a soft spot under the right wing, burying itself to the fletching and causing the wyvern to stagger left, smashing into the temple and shaking tiles loose from the roof overhead.

One of those tiles bounced off Aoibhell’s shoulder and she dropped her sword with a cry of pain.  That was not good.  I shouted, swinging my mace again and again, landing solid blows, but affecting little enough.

Then Liz flashed past me, her twin blades, Lilith’s old swords, slicing into the beast’s belly, laying open two gaping wounds.  More blood splashed out and the drops that landed on my armor smoked with an acrid odor that stung my eyes.

I couldn’t rub my eyes with the mace in my hand and I couldn’t see well enough to do much in the way of avoiding an incoming blow, so I took a step back and rolled to the side.  My instincts had been good because the stinger smashed into the ground where I’d been standing, sending a spray of rocks and dirt to rattle against  my armor.

Of course, lying on the ground, even rolling, made me a much easier target so I was not surprised when a claw smashed into my back, knocking the wind out of me.  The armor held, which was good, but the pain that swept out from that blow was enough to daze me.  Not only did I stop rolling, but I lost my grip on the mace.

The others took advantage of the beast’s attention being given to me.  Aoibhell recovered her sword and began hacking at the left leg.  Whether the damage was enough to cripple the wyvern or not was moot; the pain drew its attention around, saving my life.

I rolled onto my back and called down holy fire.  I don’t know which was luckier, the wyvern or us.  The fire roared down a small column of flame that slammed into the wyvern’s back.  I’m sure she took some damage, but the brunt of the fire was absorbed by the saddle rig.  The leather, even treated, was less durable than the wyvern’s hide, so as I watched, amazed, she gave a great shudder and the saddle flew over the temple grounds wall and out of sight.  With her wings suddenly unimpaired I thought for sure we were all dead.

As a ranger, Liz has some amazing powers of her own.  Healing is not her strong suit, but wild animals now — those are directly in her wheelhouse.  She shouted a word and placed her hand against the creatures side.  There was another shudder that ran through the beast then she launched herself skyward and flapped away into the morning, northward into the higher mountains.

And just like that, the battle was over.  I flopped back down, breathing hard and was surprised when Brindle limped over to lay beside me, placing his great drooly head on my chest.  Liz helped Aoibhell return her sword to her scabbard and brought her next to me as well.  Then she drew her bow once more and watched the temple for new enemies.

I rose up on my elbows and looked over the temple grounds.  Not a single undead.  Not as much as a skeleton.  Definitely not what I had expected from a pair of necromancers.  With a sigh I pushed myself upright and prepared to heal my companions.

The world was far too quiet after the wyvern and I feared for the lives of the pirates.